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June 25, 2024, 2:43 p.m.
Reporting & Production

Triangle Blog Blog aims for a sweet spot between local news and progressive politics

To what extent can, and can’t, a well-researched progressive civics blog serve as local news?

When I type “local news Carrboro” into Google in early June, at first glance, there seems to be an abundance of solid resources I can consult about the latest happenings in the small North Carolina town.

At the top, there’s the radio station and website Chapelboro, “one of the only distributors of local news in Chapel Hill and the surrounding area.” The homepage features a textbook small-town groundbreaking, a weekend event list, some sports news…nothing that immediately screams “hard-hitting,” but that’s ok.

My next option is ABC11’s Carrboro news section, which on the day I visited led with a crime story about a shooting, followed by a mix of local government headlines from around the Triangle. (That story, dated May 30, is still leading there today.) Then there’s the Town of Carrboro website; the student newspaper The Daily Tar Heel; news aggregator NewsBreak (hm, maybe not); local NBC affiliate WRAL (same crime story leading); another aggregator called Ground News (guess which story is first); and, in slot number eight, a news site called The Local Reporter.

“Your relentlessly local nonprofit newspaper,” The Local Reporter declares itself on the top-right corner of its site, “serving Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Southern Orange County.” It’s a “member of the North Carolina Press Association,” with an assortment of stories under “government,” “schools,” “growth & development,” and “community.” Per its about page, the outlet’s mission is to provide “an engaging and rigorously-reported local newspaper” for residents of the area. It elaborates, “Taking its cues from issues of concern to local community, The Local Reporter will offer a civil forum of public debate, nurture local business, peer into local mysteries, but above all, build community engagement and enrich local identity through the telling of an ever-evolving public narrative of life in our region of coverage.”

Another green flag: the nonprofit says it subscribes to the Institute for Nonprofit News‘ conflict of interest and editorial independence policies, and states that the organization is “committed to transparency.”

Only because I’m looking for it do I see that all three members of the nonprofit’s board1 identify themselves as former members of something called the Chapel Hill Alliance for a Livable Town (CHALT) in their bios.

I don’t actually live in Carrboro. But Melody Kramer does. The former NPR staffer (and 2015 Visiting Nieman Fellow)’s journalistic alarm bells first went off when she saw a social media post in February 2020 by another reporter about the news outlet’s connections to CHALT, a local political group with a history and reputation of opposing development. (CHALT formed an affiliated PAC called the Chapel Hill Leadership Political Action Committee in 2017.) On its website, CHALT states that “the rampant growth in the Triangle is threatening Chapel Hill’s good qualities” and claims to support “responsible growth” that mitigates the strain its says unchecked development causes by affecting the environment, traffic, property taxes, and “college town character.” Critics like Kramer, though, say CHALT obstructs the construction of sorely needed affordable housing.

Kramer’s day job is in communications at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. But in March 2022, as a volunteer hobby, she decided to start practicing her own kind of local journalism by founding a community blog — Triangle Blog Blog. Her first story took The Local Reporter to task for insufficient disclosures and transparency surrounding its CHALT ties (though she did explicitly distinguish it from “pink slime” local outlets driven by national political operations).2 She and the rest of the all-volunteer, unpaid team3 behind the Blog Blog have not let up since. Her ad-hoc experiment has grown into a consequential community resource — a trusted hub of Triangle intel with thousands of regular readers, dozens of contributors, and coverage by turns robust and funny of all things local, from elections, to zoning, to education, to pickleball.

Make no mistake, though: Triangle Blog Blog has an explicit point of view. It’s run through the community nonprofit Shameful Nuisance, a 501(c)(4). Shameful Nuisance’s other projects include the Chapel Hill Inclusion Project and Chapel Hill for All, “a campaign to support progressive candidates and politics that expand equitable access to housing, green space, and economic opportunity in Chapel Hill.” Multiple current and former board members have served, or actively serve, on Chapel Hill’s Planning Commission.

Triangle Blog Blog describes itself to readers as a “civic news cooperative” and “a daily group blog covering civics and news in Chapel Hill and Carrboro that reaches thousands of people across our region.” The site’s about page also shares several statements about what its contributors “believe in,” including “housing for all,” “connected communities,” and “a community that works for all.”

“We are here to give a voice to progressive people in our community who don’t otherwise have that,” Kramer told me. To her, disclosure of that perspective is everything.

Triangle Blog Blog raises some interesting questions about the increasingly motley forms local news takes today. Specifically: To what extent can, and can’t, a well-researched progressive civics blog serve as local news? What local information needs is this project meeting? How does it fit into the broader local news ecosystem?

Kramer and I explored some of these questions in a wide-ranging conversation, below, that touched on everything from bar mitzvahs to antique typewriters. It has been edited for length and clarity.

SOPHIE CULPEPPER: Can you tell me the origin story of Triangle Blog Blog? Were you inspired by any other specific projects?

MELODY KRAMER: I moved here in 2015. I was doing a lot of work on Twitter, following local politics and local news, and identified that there wasn’t a lot of coverage of very, very local issues here. McClatchy owns The News & Observer — they have one reporter covering all of our county. She can only be in one place at once. The Daily Tar Heel is a great news organization, but students turn in and out every four years. There used to be a local newspaper in Carrboro, where I live, and one in Chapel Hill, but both of them folded.

[This isn’t] a news desert in that there is a McClatchy operation here, but we haven’t seen the proliferation of decent nonprofit news operations that have sprung up elsewhere.

I worked for NPR for a decade; I wrote a Poynter column for many years about the state of local news; I was watching the Tiny News [Collective] and these one- or two-person nonprofit news organizations spring up through INN. I didn’t want to do that, because I have a full-time job and two little kids. But I noticed people on Twitter were actually live-tweeting town council meetings and doing this on their own. They were doing really good work, and no one was seeing it. Because when you live in a small town, you might have, like, 20 Twitter followers. So I reached out to people who I did not know, and said, what if we just start a WordPress, and we’ll put it all there, and we’ll just see how this goes, and we can play around.

I gave it the name Triangle Blog Blog, in part because the first story I was interested in was The Local Reporter. I wanted to make very, very clear that we had a point of view and that we were not a news organization, so we called it a blog. I think Triangle Blog was taken, so we added an extra one.

CULPEPPER: So that’s why! I was going to ask…

KRAMER: It started out as five people.4 Two of them are professional planners,5 several of them were on the Planning Commission for the town of Chapel Hill.6 They were people who had been advocating for a long time for different kinds of housing [and] more housing in our community. They were just really thoughtful writers.

We became a [501(c)(4)]. [Being] a C-4 allows you to endorse, which we wanted to do in local races. Also, we kept getting doxxed online. I don’t mind being doxxed, but we were concerned [for] our donor base, which is primarily people on the tenure track, or people in graduate schools who are not in positions of power in a one-company university town, versus a group of tenured professors who don’t really want things to change. [Kramer herself had a critic of the Blog Blog contact her employer last fall.] Our concern was that if we made our donors public — none of whom are large donors, but enough to cover our structural WordPress costs on a monthly basis — that that could affect their employment. And so we became a C-4 [a type of organization that does not have to disclose donors].7

But then we started inviting people who said something good at a town council meeting to post; we started a chat room. Over the past two years, 60 people have contributed. Some of our stories get 60,000 to 100,000 pageviews. We have a newsletter with 7,000 people on it and it has [about] an 80% open rate.

We have a point of view, and we make that point of view very, very clear. We are progressive in a state that is struggling with its future, I guess you could say. We’ve done Q&As; we’ve started to cover things at the state level. We’re covering UNC a little bit and doing a lot of public records requests.

Last July, no one had filed to run for our local school board race, and we were concerned that Moms for Liberty would put forward a candidate. We wrote a story, and [around] 60 people reached out to us and asked if they could file, and 19 of them did. We’ve really gotten people involved in the civic process. We’ve gotten people to polls; we’ve gotten people to vote; we’ve gotten people to attend a town council meeting; we’ve gotten them to speak at a town council meeting. We’ve identified people who could join an advisory board or become further engaged in the civic process. INDY Week, our local alt weekly, wrote a piece after the last election cycle that we were partially responsible for increasing the municipal turnout by over 20%.

We’re all volunteers. We’re essentially running a news organization for free. That has allowed us to be very free in what we do, but it is also limiting, in some respects.

CULPEPPER: Do you feel like this is a sustainable enterprise? Or do you think that for it to be sustainable it would need to develop into something paid?

KRAMER: Probably the latter. We said we would pay students $150 to write a well-reported, researched piece. We got [around] four or five people who wanted to do that, so that’s the first foray we’ve had into potentially paying people.

One of them is writing about Black land loss in Chapel Hill — how land ownership has changed over time. One of them is writing about teen transit. We have a free bus system; the buses go to all of the high schools and middle schools, and he’s writing about how teenagers can have a little bit more autonomy by utilizing the free public transportation system.

My hope is that we can pay people. But I don’t know what the funding model for something like this is. I think it’s difficult if you’re doing more opinionated news. But for me, covering local council meetings in a straight-up, “this is what happened” [way] provides no context for the audience.

And it’s really helpful for the audience to know: This person speaking at a town council meeting actually runs 20 organizations that have opposed every development in Chapel Hill since the beginning of time. If you’re just reporting straight up what this person spoke at this meeting…you’re not contextualizing that for your audience and saying, “This is part of a larger effort to do X,” or “This person has spoken at every meeting for the past 16 weeks, and maybe that’s not demographically representative of our community.”

When you’re providing that kind of context, it requires a lot more background knowledge of what’s going on. And so you can’t necessarily just drop in a student reporter and say “Report on this meeting.” But also…I think having a point of view is challenging because it kind of goes against this [idea of] what is news coverage [and] how we cover these things. The way that The News and Observer would cover a meeting is very different than the way that we would cover a meeting. I don’t think there are funding sources for that kind of thing.

CULPEPPER: You’re saying that it would be harder to get the types of bigger funders who support nonprofit news to be interested in funding you as a progressive news site?

KRAMER: Yeah. I don’t think that they’re used to funding point-of-view…but I think everybody has a point of view.

CULPEPPER: I want to hear more about to what extent you do and do not see yourself as a “traditional” news organization. The way I’ve seen you defined, and the way I’ve heard you define yourself, is a “group blog with a commitment to accuracy” and also having this progressive point of view, and also as a “civic news collective.” So how is Triangle Blog Blog similar to and distinct from a traditional news outlet?

KRAMER: I’m going to send you something we put together for the last three election cycles. It used to just be a Google Sheet, and then we made it into an actual image and passed it out at the polls. It’s a collection of every single endorsement for every single candidate in our local election cycle.

News organizations don’t traditionally round up things that other news organizations do. Our role in this was more curator than anything else, because we were rounding up what existed. We also endorsed, and our endorsements were on here.

I’ll show you one more example. We put together this voting guide for the last election cycle. Some people said it was the single most effective thing that they read before the election, and in part, that was because we translated everything into Spanish. We collected every single interview that every candidate had given across every organization. We also looked at how several of them switched their political party registrations directly prior to the election, which required us to file public records requests. We wanted to note that, because they were not Democrats, and then they became Democrats to run.

I think we are a news organization in the sense that we are providing information — we cite all of our [sources]; we issue corrections if we get something incorrect; we interview people; we have bylines…and I look at those as things that build trust with an audience. But we don’t have an editorial news cycle; we don’t publish a certain number of times per week. There’s really no set schedule.

CULPEPPER: But you do send out a regular newsletter.

KRAMER: Every two weeks.

People also ask us [questions about the community]. Somebody wrote to us last week and said they had heard a rumor that the Chapel Hill farmers market was going to get moved from its current location, and they wanted us to look into it. We just put the person in touch with somebody who could help them figure it out. That was kind of connecting the dots instead of publishing; I look at it almost as civic news service, in whatever way service is defined.

CULPEPPER: You mentioned a chat room. How does that work, and do you do any moderating?

KRAMER: Yeah, we have a Discord. Discord would not be my mode of choice, but it is the mode of choice for people a lot younger than me, and so I have adapted. There are about 120 people in the chat room. [The way it started out] is that if somebody said something that seemed reasonable and smart at a town council meeting, we then emailed them and said, “Hey, would you like to join our chat room and discuss local politics?”

But it’s really morphed. There’s an events channel, a things-to-do-with-kids channel, an off-topic channel, a state-level politics channel. It’s predominantly used by people to either discuss local issues or to say, like, “I hear sirens. Does anybody know what that is?” It’s like a less hostile NextDoor.

We have a room called Blog Reading, where people just post interesting articles that they’ve found. And then we have one called Blog Writing where people are like, “I want to write about X.” For example, somebody two days ago said, “There’s a crosswalk at an intersection in downtown Carrboro where people keep getting almost hit by cars. Could I just write up five observations that I’ve seen?” I was like, that sounds great! That’s not like something that a McClatchy would publish — it’s just, like, five incidents that this local librarian has seen that involved somebody almost getting hurt, and she’s trying to encourage the town to put in a stop sign or something like that. If she were to just write to Town Council and ask for a stop sign, they may or may not say yes, but if she is able to build an audience around the idea of getting that stop sign…

CULPEPPER: How did your time at NPR shape what Triangle Blog Blog is?

KRAMER: We’re not here to air people’s grievances. Understanding what not to publish is really important. At NPR, and in any newsroom, I think you’re trained in “what is the story? What is libelous?” We’ve said no to things; sometimes things come us not fully formed, and we say, “happy to work with you on that in a Google Doc, but you’re going to need to do some work.”

Adding humor to this has been one of our greatest successes, because the pieces are just fun to read [a handful of posts are tagged “satire”]. I don’t think I took that from NPR, but it’s something that could be infused into a lot of newsrooms — how do you make something about a very, very boring topic enjoyable? You add humor, or you turn it on its head, or you talk about something in a way that people might not expect.

CULPEPPER: Is there one thing you would highlight that you see as the most impactful example of your work in the way you want to be impactful? I know you’ve already talked about increasing the number of people who ran in an election, and increasing turnout.

KRAMER: We increased the number of voters. We fielded an entire slate of school board candidates. We were instrumental in passing zoning allowing duplexes in Chapel Hill. We did that through a series of mechanisms. We published a lot of posts. If people spoke at a town council meeting, we asked them to take their comments and publish a blog post. It’s kind of circular: We encouraged people to speak; they spoke; we published what they said.

Last summer, [before last November’s] municipal election, somebody leaked to us that a PAC was going to raise $120,000 and infuse that into our local mayor election in Chapel Hill. We broke that news and stayed on top of that story for months. Then we reported on [how] they decided not to go forward with the PAC and put their money into a different PAC. Their financial forms are all screwed up, and we covered all of that. It was picked up by all of the other local media organizations.

The same group of people have opposed greenways in our area. We’ve done a lot of work to promote greenways.

These issues are almost so tiny that they’re not going to get covered by a News and Observer. We’ve put a lot of effort into very small [issues].

CULPEPPER: Is there anything that you don’t cover?

KRAMER: We endorse, so we were very clear that we backed certain candidates, the more progressive candidates. We covered the candidate pool through that lens.

The interesting thing about The Local Reporter is that…they were started by the PAC. And so the people running that were backing the other slate of candidates, [but positioned] themselves as a nonprofit newspaper. INN gave them $15,000 [via the Miami Foundation, as part of NewsMatch].

Sophie here with a break for context — The News and Observer’s October 2021 story by reporter Tammy Grubb about The Local Reporter’s ties to CHALT included the following detail:

In June, the Institute for Nonprofit News also spoke with The Local Reporter’s leaders after Chapel Hill-based journalist Melody Joy Kramer questioned the CHALT connection on Twitter. Kramer referred The N&O to others when contacted for this story.

The Local Reporter was an INN member for two years but did not renew this year, [former INN executive director Sue] Cross said, because it didn’t have a professional journalist on staff and lacked required disclosures.

I reached out to The Local Reporter about Kramer’s, and the Blog Blog’s, critiques. Managing editor Michelle Cassell shared this statement:

The Local Reporter has three Board members who were affiliated with CHALT several years ago. All have resigned as members in CHALT since the TBB and News and Reporter accused TLR as being biased in October of 2021.

Since that date, the Triangle Blog Blog continues to revisit the same issues, over and over again without recognition of the measures that The Local Reporter has implemented to disassociate with the CHALT organization. Today, we strive to present an unbiased and fair representation of our local area news. A review of our articles over the past three years will show you fair and comprehensive reporting about area development and those who may oppose it.

We invite guest columns and letters to the editor from all area citizens and seek to investigate any allegations that anything we have published was not factual. We are quick to acknowledge an error and to provide retractions if necessary, as does any competent news organization.

We follow the standards set by the North Carolina Press Administration and are Associate Members. Rather than tear apart our nonprofit local news source it would be so much better to join the crusade to save local journalism and work together. This newspaper was founded in the hope we could provide the citizens with local news that was not being covered when the daily paper went out of business.

Melody Kramer is an accomplished writer and we would welcome a guest column from her or her supporters of NEXT to be published at any time. Our goal is for complete transparency. We ascribe to the Journalist’s Creed and expect our reporters and columnists to be accountable.

From my own brief review of The Local Reporter’s development coverage since 2019, I noticed a shift in the last several months or so. There is no obvious anti-development bias from my read of recent reporting about approved developments or a pro-housing march. But older news coverage, from prior to the Blog Blog’s inception, is often bylined “staff reports” and consistently frames development through a skeptical and sometimes outright critical lens (from a TLR Staff Report story on Aug. 19, 2019: “What does all that mean? It means there’s a cost to growth, and it probably means that residential taxes will be going up.”). The Reporter also has a clear record of publishing guest columns critical of development. (The News and Observer did its own more detailed analysis of 40 development stories and guest columns published by The Local Reporter between August 2019 and July 2021.)

Now back to the Q&A.

CULPEPPER: Is there anything that you don’t cover?

KRAMER: In terms of what we have not covered: It’s sometimes difficult for us to cover UNC because so many of us work there. We have bios that say where we work and what we do.

I serve on the water and sewage board [a few weeks after our conversation in late May, Kramer was elected chair]. I can write about the water and sewage board, but I have to say I am writing as an individual and not as a board member. But if I were at a traditional news organization, I don’t think I would be allowed to serve on a water and sewage board. [Kramer became the subject of a board meeting she herself live-blogged earlier this month.]

We’ve [also] had elected officials write for us. We clearly state that they’re elected officials. I think we’re very good about IDing people so that people understand what the point of view is, but we’re not going to not publish them because they’re an elected official. In small-town politics, it’s not like [politicians] have a huge social media audience, so [this can be a way for them to] convey information to their constituents.

CULPEPPER: You had mentioned that a lot of your donors, and it seems like a lot of the people involved in the Blog Blog, are part of the UNC community, specifically graduate students or faculty who are not yet tenured. Who are you writing for? Who are your readers? And what do you know about who reads you?

KRAMER: Our readers are primarily people in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. I’m always surprised at how diverse it is in terms of age. I think that’s partially because of our school board work and our school coverage, and partially because we cover pickleball.

In my dream world, there would be 40 investigative journalists covering Chapel Hill and Carrboro and the UNC system, which could use a lot of investigative journalism. And there’s not. So we are filling a void while that void exists, but I hope that void doesn’t exist forever.

We often highlight other people’s work. If there are people who are doing good, decent local journalism, I want to elevate them and amplify their work. In our newsletter, we constantly showcase things from other reporters or things that are affecting our region.

I wish every newsroom had a point of view that was very, very clear to their readers. I just think that that’s being more honest with your audience.

CULPEPPER: Like, even a McClatchy paper?

KRAMER: Yeah. I mean, McClatchy — there was an incident not too long ago where a state legislator in North Carolina got into a major accident during his wedding weekend, and he was likely drunk. The only paper that covered it in North Carolina was, I believe, The Assembly…they’re paywalled, and they’re excellent. They just took over a news organization in Fayetteville [CityView] and they are forming a network.

But they covered the story that the other news organizations didn’t. Are [the other news organizations] not covering it because they need access to these people?

I’m not worried about access. Our town council is seven people who I could text right after this call…That’s not the way that it works when you’re living in a community of like, 20,000 people.

CULPEPPER: We talked a little bit about whether sustainability for Triangle Blog Blog would require payment, theoretically, in the longer run. Do you envision a subscription model as its future?

KRAMER: I don’t. To me, the benefit of this thing is that it is accessible to everybody and anybody can contribute, if they’re contributing factually. I still think of this like a group blog.

There used to be group blogs where people were doing this all the time. There’s a great example in Orange County. There’s a website that is now defunct that was called OrangePolitics, and it was like a MetaFilter for local politics. It was beautiful. It’s still up, but it’s not maintained anymore. It was a way for people to plug into hyperlocal politics and listen directly to elected officials, before the proliferation of Facebook media and personal branding.

I think curation is key to having something like this work. We’re not just going to let anybody spout off on an op-ed — there is a website here called Chapelboro, anybody with a pulse can write anything they want on that website, and that’s fine. We are discerning in our selection. We curate. And we have guidelines that are not written down, but are articulated amongst ourselves, that guide the tone and the content that we publish.

CULPEPPER: You’re saying you don’t have written-down guidelines —

KRAMER: We have nothing written down, Sophie. This is literally a group blog. My dream is to have a blog blog in every community — there are people in every community who are former college journalists who miss working in newsrooms, who follow town council meetings, who are currently potentially putting something on a Facebook moms group…and a lot of people are not on those platforms. These deserve wider conversations and audiences.

We have a school bond coming up in November, and there are murmurs that people are going to protest against the school bond. We’ve been reaching out to our Board of County Commissioners and our school board members trying to get actual factual details. These are things that our McClatchy paper might cover once, and it will be behind a paywall. We can stick with this story; we can literally reach out to the PTA presidents because we’re in the PTAs.

CULPEPPER: If you want a blog blog to exist in every community, do you think that for a healthy news ecosystem, the blog blog has to exist alongside a traditional newspaper?

KRAMER: Yes, I do. People need to get paid for this stuff. I am not suggesting that every community rely on a cohort of volunteers — people drop out, people have other stuff going on, we do this as we have time. That is not the way that news and democracy in our community should work. I think that it’s kind of an additive.

It’s almost like a hobby blog where our hobby is local politics. I’m part of an antique typewriter community and I maintain and repair old typewriters. I got into it during the pandemic. And if you go into the antique typewriter community blogs and Facebook groups and forums, there is a language and understanding where if you join, you kind of have to watch for a month or two to just understand what kind of community you’re joining and the norms of that community.

That is true, also, for local council meetings. We cannot treat these things as a point-in-time snapshot of what is going on in a local community. There is additional context, which I feel like is often missing from the way that traditional newsrooms cover this because they are literally covering the who, what, when, where, and why, in the room, and we are covering what took place prior to everyone joining that room.

CULPEPPER: How do people find the Blog Blog?

KRAMER: Chapel Hill and Carrboro have a robust network of local HOA listservs, which are neighborhood-specific, where you need to basically be on a listserv in order to get the information from it. It’s a way a lot of misinformation flows, especially during local election season. We’e encouraged basically one person in each neighborhood to share information on their neighborhood listserv. We’ve published a lot about the school district, in part because a lot of us are parents in the school district.

We went to a town council meeting where we handed out fliers and said, “If this is your first town council meeting, here’s what you [need to know].” If you go to a bar or bat mitzvah, before you go into the sanctuary, somebody’s at the door, and they hand you a piece of paper that’s like, “Is this your first bar or bat mitzvah? Here’s what’s going to happen, here’s what this means.” We went to a town council meeting and just did that.

We’re throwing a parade to celebrate a bike lane reopening. That is the end of a two-year civic infrastructure project to repair that road — that will teach people about that project through a parade.

I think we are just out in community. And our community is about 80,000 people between our two towns [Chapel Hill, approx. pop. 60,000, and Carrboro, approx. pop. 20,000]. Prior to this, I lived in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia and New York and Chicago, and I never felt comfortable or even knew that I could reach out to my local government. Here, I routinely have lunch with the mayor. You go to a town council meeting on a Tuesday night and you can have your say, and you can write it up.

Photo of UNC Chapel Hill bell tower by Gene Gallin on Unsplash.

  1. The Local Reporter is published by a 501(c)(3) called “Friends of Local Journalism.” []
  2. From Kramer’s April 5, 2022 piece: “I should be clear: The Local Reporter doesn’t resemble any of the pink slime journalism outlets or the advocacy orgs…that sit inside a non-profit but function as a newsroom. It’s a small operation and there aren’t political forces sweeping in from outside Chapel Hill to fund this operation. But The Local Reporter *is* the first example I’ve seen of a hyperlocal news operation that repeatedly claims to be ‘publishing factual, unbiased journalism‘ without disclosing their many connections to a local advocacy group.” []
  3. Volunteers have an outsized, and growing, role at many news nonprofits; according to the most recent INN Index, more than a third of outlets reported that volunteers play important roles in executive leadership, editorial assistance, and fundraising. []
  4. Two board positions recently turned over, with EPA researcher Louie Rivers III and rising UNC Chapel Hill senior Julian Taylor replacing IBM application architect John Rees and UNC assistant professor Martin Johnson. []
  5. Geoff Green and Stephen Whitlow both have planning degrees; Green works as a planner, while Whitlow is a research consultant mostly focused on issues related to housing, Kramer clarified. []
  6. Recent board member Rees, new board member Rivers, Whitlow, and Green have all served on the Planning Commission. Rivers and Green are current members, while Whitlow and Rees are commission alums. []
  7. In case you’re interested in a little more context about the financial side of the Blog Blog:

    CULPEPPER: You explained your concern about doxxing and professional consequences (specifically risks to tenure) as the reason that you don’t disclose your donors. Within the community, have you gotten pushback for not disclosing donors?

    KRAMER: We have. We have been called Dark Money. I think that people are trying to equate us to large dark money organizations that are operating at the national level. We have pushed back against that and said we byline our pieces and have bios…we tell you when we spend $100 on stickers. Our expenses are literally our WordPress, our Zapier, our newsletter, we threw a pizza party last year…we’re not paying ourselves — it’s clear, I think, from the operation that there’s nothing unseemly going on.

    We did print out endorsement fliers in the last election, and we filed an independent expenditure: we spent $700. We needed to file with the Orange County Board of Elections because we endorsed in that race. Because our name was on that flier, it was considered political.

    We might fundraise again, because we’d like to print out fliers for the next local election cycle. We have T-shirts [and other merch, including a sweatshirt emblazoned with, it must be said, a fiery and rather funny clapback to the Dark Money label]; you can buy a T-shirt and we get [a little bit] from your T-shirt.

    CULPEPPER: So you have some business-editorial separation.

    KRAMER: We have a firewall between the person who’s managing our money, in the same way that [at] NPR, if you work in the newsroom, you don’t know, unless there’s a donor who is at the end of a broadcast and they say ‘this program was supported by such and such’ — you don’t get a list of the small donors.

    I don’t have a list of the small donors. I don’t know if you’ve donated unless you’ve told me. And that was on purpose.

    [A note from Sophie: Blog Blog’s treasurer is Mychal Weinert. Weinert is married to board member Whitlow, but keeps treasury work completely separate.

    Weinert told me that since its inception, an average Blog Blog donation is $39.05. The Blog Blog receives “$368.11/month in recurring donations as of May 2024,” he said in an email. Among all donations, 62% are $20 or under; 89% are $50 and under; 97% are $100 and under; and 99% are $500 and under.

    “We received one larger, targeted donation to help cover the cost of this initiative,” the printing and mailing of a progressive voter guide to households in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, Weinert noted. “The donor requested their name and amount stay confidential. All other donations have been for general support of the blog.”

    The Blog Blog doesn’t currently have a formal budget, he told me, and makes “spending decisions as needs arise.” Its recurring expenses include web hosting and transcription, and its payments to a couple of students for their projects “should not exceed $2,000.”] []

Sophie Culpepper is a staff writer at Nieman Lab. You can reach her via email ( or Twitter DM (@s_peppered).
POSTED     June 25, 2024, 2:43 p.m.
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