City council members to take ownership of Chronicle newspaper

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Two members of Winston-Salem City Council are acquiring The Chronicle, a weekly community newspaper dedicated to covering the black community in Winston-Salem.

Councilman James Taylor Jr. and Councilman Derwin Montgomery are buying the newspaper from publisher Ernie Pitt, who founded it in 1974. Taylor said he will assume responsibility for day-to-day operations of the newspaper as publisher when the deal closes in May, while Montgomery as co-owner will remain in his role as executive director of the Bethesda Center.

Taylor said the transfer of ownership is the culmination of about 12 months of talks with Pitt, who is planning to retire.

The Chronicle lines up with the work we already do in the community,” Taylor said. “Me being a native son, The Chronicle has told the stories out community needed them to tell. Even as a student athlete, I’ve seen them tell the important stories of our community. It’s right in line with the goals that I set out to accomplish in public service.”

In a press release today Taylor noted that the newspaper assets that he and Montgomery are acquiring include The Chronicle and another publication, For Seniors Only, but he declined to comment on whether the partners are also taking ownership of the building where the newspaper operates on Liberty Street.

Taylor said the editorial team, which includes Editor Donna Rogers and journalist Todd Luck, will remain in place.

“At this time we don’t intend to make any changes,” he said. “This isn’t a fire sale where we’re coming in to lay everybody off. We want to enhance the good that the newspaper is already doing. We value the staff and we look forward to working with them.”

In 2014, Winston-Salem City Council approved a $100,000 small business loan to The Chronicle to help finance the launch of For Seniors Only. Assistant City Manager Derwick Paige said the funds were never released because Pitt did not provide the documentation required under the terms and conditions of the loan. City council will vote on a request to rescind the loan at its meeting tonight, Paige said.

Taylor said The Chronicle’s reputation for fairness and impartiality will not be compromised by the fact that its new owners are also elected representatives who serve on city council.

“We’re committed to being fair, equitable and just and completely impartial when it comes to journalistic integrity,” Taylor said. “I plan to allow editors and reporters to have complete autonomy when they cover city government.”

While Taylor said he might insist that the editorial staff cover a story because of its significance to the community — for the example, the recent death of Forsyth County Commissioner Walter Marshall, and the appointment of Fleming El-Amin to fill his vacancy — or he might insist on a correction of the newspaper publishes un-factual information or misspells someone’s name. But otherwise he’ll be hands-off.

“I would never tell them: ‘Don’t write something about me. Don’t write about Mr. Montgomery,’” he said. “That’s not journalism. I would never tell them to do a hit piece on someone.”

To safeguard against abuse of power, Taylor said The Chronicle will not endorse in political races in which he and Montgomery are candidates, although endorsements in other races will continue.

“We don’t want it to appear that this is a platform to advance our political careers,” he said.