After residents cried foul over a local reporter’s resignation from Charlotte’s nonprofit newspaper last month, a group of nationally known journalists who live in town are starting a news outlet of their own.
Chea Waters Evans, who quit as editor of The Charlotte News in March under mounting pressure from the paper’s publisher, will serve as editor-in-chief of the newly minted publication, The Charlotte Bridge. Its board of directors will include four prominent journalists who left the Charlotte News board in protest of Evans’ treatment there.
The Bridge — a weekly, all-digital, nonprofit publication — promises “fact-checked, fearless, fair journalism” for the town, according to its website. It claims to be the first nonprofit news source in the country operating with “full financial transparency” — providing links to bank balances and even the code used to create the website.
“Our main goal is transparency,” Evans said. “And not in a way where we want to compete with The Charlotte News. Their focus is having community contributors, while I just want to focus on hard news. They can continue doing what they’ve done well for decades.”
The new publication will join two others in covering this small, affluent town on the shores of Lake Champlain. In addition to the Charlotte News, The Citizen reports on Charlotte and neighboring Hinesburg.
The new outfit’s focus on transparency in its dealings and accountability-focused reporting is rooted in a set of news values that Evans and the Bridge’s other founders — including New Yorker writer Adam Davidson and Fuller Project founder Christina Asquith — felt were not always welcome at the Charlotte News.
During Evans’ two-year tenure as that paper’s editor, the News featured community stories typical of cash-strapped papers in small towns. But Evans also produced meticulously reported accountability stories on zoning board disputes and conflicts of interest in local government.
The latter approach won her the admiration of four friends and journalists who met covering the Iraq War in 2003 and now live in Charlotte: Asquith; her husband, author and former Bloomberg News editor Jack Fairweather; Davidson; and his wife, author-playwright Jen Banbury.
Hoping to contribute expertise to a beloved source for local news, the four journalists joined The Charlotte News board of directors.
But as other board members clashed with Evans and allegedly interfered with her reporting decisions — sometimes when their own relatives were involved in coverage — the four concluded that the paper was uninterested in standard journalistic ethics.
According to Asquith, starting The Charlotte Bridge offered a chance to rekindle the dogged, community-level news coverage that many residents feared would be lost for good when Evans left The Charlotte News. Asquith, Davidson, Fairweather and their friend Jesse Wegman, who serves on the New York Times editorial board and also lives in Charlotte, will be board members for the new publication.
Asquith hopes the publication will help set a standard for transparency for people who manage nonprofit news organizations, at a time when a growing number of newsrooms around the country have adopted the nonprofit model and many for-profit daily newspapers have shed staff and gone out of business.
“As journalists, we’ve spent our whole careers demanding transparency from public officials,” said Asquith, who has lived in Charlotte since 2017. “So we felt we should model that ourselves.”
While Evans will have full authority over editorial decisions, Asquith is making all of the code used to build the site’s homepage public — along with the entirety of the publication’s financial information. Anyone will be able to view The Charlotte Bridge’s expenses and donations in real time through its website, Asquith said.
Initially, The Charlotte Bridge will publish via the online newsletter platform Substack. Residents can sign up to receive Evans’ weekly reports on town affairs in their email inboxes. The publication’s stories will be available for any other news outlet to republish, Evans said.
“A sense of transparency, an openness about any conflict of interest and our heightened awareness of what that can look like is driving everything we want to do here,” she said.
Since Evans left The Charlotte News, the newspaper’s editorial content has been produced by an array of reporters and writers in the community while the publication seeks a new editor to fill Evans’ role. A successor to Evans, Kim MacQueen, joined the newspaper shortly after Evans left but resigned herself just a few days later.
MacQueen told VTDigger in an email that she had not been aware of the reasons for Evans’ and the four journalists’ departure from the paper before taking the job. But her decision to resign stemmed from the need to care for a family member who had fallen ill, she said.
In an email to VTDigger, interim Charlotte News publisher John Quinney said the newspaper recently adopted the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics and has also launched an editorial committee to help the paper adhere to journalistic standards.
The past few weeks have entailed a “tremendous amount of work” by the volunteer group that has kept the paper running while it searches for Evans’ replacement, Quinney said. He had just learned Tuesday about The Charlotte Bridge launch and said it was too early to gauge how the two publications would exist alongside one another in such a small town.
After taking a few weeks off from reporting in the wake of The Charlotte News controversy, Evans said she was glad to be “back in the thick of things.”
“I guess sometimes when you make a big decision that you think is just going to blow everything up — or one where you’re not sure what the consequence is going to be, but you’re pretty sure it’s not going to be great — it’s really good to see something so awesome come out of it,” she said.
Disclosure: VTDigger founder and editor-in-chief Anne Galloway joined The Charlotte Bridge advisory board on Tuesday. She was not involved with the reporting or editing of this story.