After six years Charles Duncan, the founder of Raleigh Public Record,
has decided to move on to greener pastures. Tropical green pastures. Paradise, to be more exact. He's accepted a job as the investigative special projects coordinator at the Cayman Compass, in the Cayman Islands.
Duncan, a Raleigh resident who has commuted to Duke to do a masters degree, started the Raleigh Public Record from nothing and built it into a respected player in the North Carolina media ecosystem. The Public Record, which survives off of grants, independent investors, and monthly subscription will be taken over by a new dual leadership of James Borden and Laura Fiorelli-Crews—they'll be paid, but they'll keep their day jobs—like Duncan, who never quit his day job at Courthouse News Service. We sat down with Duncan at the RPR offices on busy Glenwood Avenue for the exit interview.
The expectant face of a journalist who just got a job in the Cayman Islands.
What's the process of passing the Raleigh Public Record on to the new leadership?
We're going to spend the next month and a half or so with two people in my position. I’m going to be handing it off to Laura Fiorelli-Crews, who spent a lot of time in small papers up here and then went down where she was a web editor for TBO. Now she’s back; her husband does tech stuff and she’s an adjunct at UNC’s journalism school. And [I’m also handing it off to] James Borden, who’s been freelancing for us for a couple years. He's a great reporter, with a day job like the rest of us. I think they’re going to bring in a really good team dynamic because they both come from pretty different perspectives. Laura has two small kids and is available three days out of the week during the day and James works a 9-to-5 and is available at night. Laura comes from some very straight journalism that we really embrace, but then James brings in a little more creativity to the process.
What was behind your decision to take off?
I’ve been doing this for six years — September 16th with be our sixth birthday — and I’m ready to do something new. In the life cycle of a non-profit, because we’re a news organization and a non-profit, sometime in that five-to-eight year range is a good time to bring in new leadership to allow the organization to grow in ways that I probably haven’t even thought of yet. For example: I hate feature leads but I know we need to do feature leads. I know we need to start integrating that and I think we’ll be able to do that under Laura and James. We spent these past six years working really hard to build a reputation for doing good, straight news. Now that we’ve come a long way, at least from my perspective, people look to us for city hall coverage and planning and development and we’ve built a core readership and trust with our sources from around the city. Now that we’re branching out, we still have very limited resources, but we can start using those resources in a way where people know who we are. When we started this, the hardest thing about creating a new news organization was "Raleigh Public what? What the hell is this thing?" Now we’ve got 20,000 regular unique readers and it fluctuates like any other news organization but we’ve got a good core reader base that we can build on.
What will you do now?
I have accepted a job for the Cayman Compass
. I’m going to be moving, full time in two months, to do investigative special projects in the Cayman Islands, which is my dream job.
As for the Raleigh Public Record, will you still have any role there?
There’s a lot to do, there’s a lot to hand off, so we’re going to be very involved in that for the next two months. I’ll still be involved on a declining plane; just sort of helping out where I can. There are some things like grant writing that sucks, but I think I’ve gotten not too bad at it at this point. That’s something where I’ll still be involved in the editing. There’s still going to be times where someone will go "I broke the website. How do I fix this?" There’s a lot that goes into this job. I don’t even know how much.
When we started, we started with just a couple core principles.We’re going to grow slowly. I was having a conversation with an editor at the N&O right when we got started and he said the way to do this is to do it like the Texas Tribute: get a million dollars, spend it in a year, go big and make a huge splash. I disagreed with him, mainly because I don’t have $1 million, and not having that $1 million, we decided to grow slowly and sustainably for a long time. That’s been content, because when we started, it was me and a couple of volunteers and we wanted to see if this was something people were interested in. Then it built up slowly and last year our budget was about $120,000, which isn’t a lot, but going from zero to that in six years? I would call that trajectory success. Everybody’s got jobs and school and we want to create something of value to the community, but we don’t want to go out and do all this shit and say we’re going to keep doing it and then not be able to deliver.
So the total team will be Laura and James and who else?
Those two and Jen Suarez, who’s been our managing editor for a while. She’s actually planning on cycling off also. Timing on that is kind of up in the air because we want to make this transition as smooth as possible. Our City Hall bureau Chief also just went off and got a new job so we’re about ready to post her job again. It’s a lot of change at once.
As a Raleigh resident who commutes to Durham on a regular basis, what’s your parting sentiment on Raleigh?
I absolutely love this city. I love it. I have always lived within walking distance of downtown because I hate to drive. I still don’t have a real answer on what my sentiment of Raleigh is. I guess my parting message is ‘Donate money to the Raleigh Public Record.’ In some ways, I’m going to be really sad to leave this city and be gone for a long time, but in other ways, I’m ready for a new adventure.