Community newspapers are more likely to succeed with readers, advertisers and the community when all residents’ voices are heard. Such was a primary mission of Bill Horner III and his partners, Kirk Bradley and Chris Enrenfeld when they acquired The Chatham News and The Chatham Record (North Carolina) in November 2018 and then combined them as The News + Record for all of Chatham County.
Horner, as the publisher, began to think about how the News + Record could serve the county’s increasing Latinx American population, even though a substantial portion of those potential readers didn’t read or write English. Their stories weren’t being covered, especially their struggles and triumphs during the pandemic. This was the impetus for creating La Voz de Chatham, or The Voice of Chatham.
“Chatham County is a diverse place, and one of our challenges was to determine how to cover the Latinx American population,” said Horner. “I’m convinced a community newspaper does more than report local news. It must also bring people together. Only then can we all benefit from all of the community’s strengths to help each other.”
With support from a Facebook Journalism Project COVID-19 Local News Relief Grant, Horner hired Victoria Johnson, a recent college journalism graduate who speaks Spanish. Johnson's task was to provide coverage for the News + Record’s print editions, in English, about how COVID-19 was impacting the Latinx American community and to tell stories Horner said “needed to be told” about the almost 14% of the county’s Latinx or Spanish-speaking population.
“Building trust with the Latinx American community was the first challenge. Although it took considerably more time and effort than we expected, the key was establishing relationships with local Latinx American leaders and nonprofits engaged with that community,” said Johnson. “Now that the community understands the sincerity of our mission, they are more open to talking with me and are generally pleased with our coverage.”
To make the project tangible to everyone in Chatham County, the paper, as part of its grant project, launched a bilingual “La Voz” page on its website with stories in both English and Spanish. Articles of possible interest to the Latinx American community are translated from English to Spanish. The paper also created a bilingual La Voz de Chatham page on Facebook since it is many community members’ first choice for news.
The first print edition of La Voz de Chatham was published in April 2021, the culmination of approximately nine months of work. Every Spanish-speaking household in the county received a copy via direct mail, and many more were distributed via Latinx-owned businesses.
“The feedback from our readers and especially those in the Latinx American community have been so positive that we decided to make this a quarterly project,” said Horner. “We’re also very pleased with how local advertisers have responded. Our advertising revenue doubled from the first to the second quarterly print edition, and many of our regular advertisers have placed ads in the La Voz editions.”
Like any community striving to be more inclusive, Horner and Johnson realize La Voz de Chatham is a good start and are confident its addition to The Chatham News + Record will ensure a better future for the paper and the entire community.
Bob Sillick has held many senior positions and served a myriad of clients during his 47 years in marketing and advertising. He has been a freelance/contract content researcher, writer, editor and manager since 2010. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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