By Keith T. Barber
The Local Reporter
In the 1941 film, “Citizen Kane,” Charles Foster Kane, played by Orson Welles, uses his substantial wealth to purchase the New York Inquirer, a fictitious newspaper. He pens a “Declaration of Principles” rather than an editorial to commemorate the first edition of the daily newspaper under his leadership. Kane promises the Inquirer’s readers that he will always be truthful and use the power of the press to shine a light on corruption in business, government and politics — an homage to muckraking journalists who exposed political and economic corruption of big business in the early 20th century.
The reason I love the scene so much is at this point in the story, Charles Foster Kane is still a romantic — an idealist who wishes to use his substantial wealth to make the world a better place. I can relate to that feeling — not the substantial wealth, but the desire to use one’s powers for the greater good. Kane believes the mission of his newspaper is bringing the truth to light. I couldn’t agree more.
I have worked as a print journalist, off-and-on, for the past 21 years. It has been quite a journey. I spent a few years away from journalism in pursuit of my MFA degree in film & media studies, which I obtained in 2016. Since 2005, I have produced a number of documentaries — shorts and feature-length films. Documentary is the perfect fusion of my two passions — journalism and cinema. When I’m not researching or working on a news story, you’ll find me reading; hiking; biking; writing, producing and directing documentaries; and attending film festivals.
My connection to Chapel Hill and Carrboro runs deep. I attended UNC-Chapel Hill in the late 1980s, and obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Radio, Television & Motion Pictures. I began my undergraduate studies with the intent of majoring in journalism. However, when I enrolled in a Media Aesthetics course my sophomore year, all that changed. I fell in love with cinema.
On that note, “All the President’s Men” remains one of my all-time favorite films. The thing that sets Alan J. Pakula’s film apart from other movies set in newsrooms is that it was the first Hollywood film to accurately depict the real work of reporting. In the film, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein [played by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman] encounter one brick wall after another as they attempt to “follow the money” while investigating the June 1972 Watergate break-in. Many of the scenes are slow, tedious and even dull, but that’s an apt illustration of the job of reporting. It’s not a glamorous profession, but vital to the survival of our democracy.
The 2021 documentary, “Storm Lake,” is also a must-see. “Storm Lake” tells the story of Iowa’s Storm Lake Times — a biweekly small-town newspaper run by Pulitzer Prize-winning editor Art Cullen and his family. The Storm Lake Times and its fight for economic survival is representative of the plight of scores of community newspapers in the U.S. The UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media issued a report four years ago that concluded a total of 1,810 community newspapers, nearly one-fifth of all newspapers in America, ceased publication between 2004-2018.
The communities of Chapel Hill and Carrboro were not immune to this disturbing trend. The Local Reporter strives to fill the news and information void created by the shuttering of the Chapel Hill News and the Carrboro Citizen. Like all communities, the municipalities of Chapel Hill and Carrboro have their share of challenges — from managing the impacts of growth and development; infrastructure issues; “town-gown” relations between the municipalities and the university; concerns over the quality and equitability of the education provided by our public schools, just to name a few.
Thus, my statement of principles is as follows: I shall endeavor as editor-in-chief of The Local Reporter to write about the stories that impact the daily lives of our readers in southern Orange County. I endeavor to lead a group of talented, committed journalists who will fight to uncover the truth. I endeavor to always ask myself the rhetorical question, “What is the story?” The answer may at first appear obvious, but if you go deeper, you will find the real story often lies far beneath the surface.
The Local Reporter’s correspondents and editors will endeavor to contextualize the stories they cover to help our readers make sense of events in our community. We will make the connections, draw the parallels, and elucidate truth against the backdrop of history, as we strive to enlighten, inform and educate you — our reader. We hope you join us on this adventure.
I laud your commitment, Keith. And hope that objectivity plays a major role in your efforts.
Welcome, Keith! People who have enjoyed controlling the message since the demise of The Chapel Hill News are feeling a little anxious twinge. I look forward to how you’ll benefit the community through your leadership.
Delighted to welcome you and to tell you that I enjoyed reading your introduction and statement of principles!
Your passion and objectivity will be a great assets to this new role. Much success in this new endeavor, Keith.