Les High and Jenny Clore

Better News: Iconic southern newspaper undergoes digital-first transformation

The News Reporter of Whiteville, North Carolina is one of those iconic southern newspapers. Founded in 1896, the paper has a long history of serving rural Columbus County, including winning a Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service for its coverage of the Ku Klux Klan in 1953.

Les High is the third-generation owner of The News Reporter. His grandfather, Leslie S. Thompson, bought the paper in 1938, and his father took over from him in 1959. Les took over from his father in 1994.

Despite The News Reporter’s multigenerational family ownership and long history of serving Columbus County, the paper was not immune to the economic forces that have impacted the media industry in recent years. Readership and advertising revenue were in decline.

In April 2016, The News Reporter’s staff decided it was time to make a significant change. With help of the University of North Carolina’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media, they began to transform the twice-weekly print publication into a digital-first newsroom.

Marketing Director Jenny Clore wrote about the transformation and the challenges The News Reporter’s staff had to face for API’s Better News initiative.

The Better News podcast is a partnership between It’s All Journalism and the American Press Institute to a) showcase innovative/experimental ideas that emerge from the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative and b) to share replicable strategies and  tactics that benefit the news industry as a whole. Sign up for the Better News newsletter to receive news about the latest resources, case studies and insights. For more news about the It’s All Journalism podcast and future episodes of Better News, sign up for the weekly IAJ newsletter.

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Jason Fraley is the entertainment editor at WTOP Radio in Washington, D.C.

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