Politics & Government

Former McCrory administration officials launch newspaper

The front page of the North State Journal’s first issue.
The front page of the North State Journal’s first issue.

A new statewide newspaper published its first edition Sunday, led by a group of former officials in Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration.

The 26-page broadsheet North State Journal has a format similar to that of many of the state’s daily newspapers, with sections devoted to news, opinion, sports and features.

But while most other print newspapers are owned by major corporations, North State Journal isn’t disclosing the financial backers behind its parent company, North State Media LLC.

“I’m not going to talk about who our investors are,” said publisher Neal Robbins, a former legislative liaison for the state environmental agency. Robbins also wouldn’t say how much money was raised to launch the paper.

Several other top staffers at the paper are also alumni of the former Department of Environment and Natural Resources under former Secretary John Skvarla, who now heads the state commerce department. Former DENR spokesman Drew Elliot writes editorials and oversees the opinion page. Former staff development specialist Sarah Lindh is the paper’s communications director. Tony Almeida, McCrory’s former senior economic adviser, is the vice president of sales.

Robbins has said Skvarla is not involved in the newspaper venture. And he stresses that North State Journal isn’t partisan and aims for objectivity.

“There’s no such thing as unbiased because human beings are human beings,” Robbins said. “Our goal is to tell the truth.”

North State Journal’s first front page featured news stories recapping the legislature’s redrawing of congressional districts, a Charlotte ordinance that includes transgender access to public bathrooms, and the state’s drug screenings of welfare recipients. An editorial called for deregulation of the hospital industry and of liquor distribution.

The opinion page contrasts with some of the state’s major newspapers, including The News & Observer, which have more left-leaning editorials.

“It’s a smart business move to have that be different from what other people are putting out,” Robbins said of his paper’s opinion page. “He (Elliot) believes in free markets and free people.”

North State Journal plans eventually to publish five editions per week, but for now, it’s only doing a Sunday edition. Robbins considers the initial publication a “beta mode” and hopes to start the daily paper in May.

Home delivery is offered only in Raleigh and Charlotte through newspaper carriers who also deliver The N&O and The Charlotte Observer, but Robbins said he hopes to expand that area. For now, subscribers in other parts of the state can receive the paper by mail.

The first edition was available only at a few retail locations: Seaboard Ace Hardware, Morning Times and Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh and Park Road Books in Charlotte.

“Turns out launching a newspaper from scratch is not super easy,” Robbins said. “The delivery logistics are as much of a challenge as anything.”

North State Journal has 16 journalists and 10 employees working on the business side, and Robbins says he plans to hire more. Some journalists have been assigned sections of the state and work from their homes in Wilson, Charlotte and the Triad.

With declining revenue posing challenges for many newspapers, a print news start-up is rare, and some have questioned whether it can be profitable. The first issue featured only four ads, and Robbins wouldn’t say how many people have subscribed.

He said that “people need to have it in their hands” to understand the paper and its mission, and he expects to line up more advertisers and subscribers.

“We got overwhelmingly positive feedback on the first issue,” Robbins said.

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter