Veteran Charlotte reporter launches African-American news website
Last spring, WFAE produced a series we called "Faces of Charlotte's Economy." At the time, we were characterizing our economic problems as a "downturn." Obviously, a lot has changed. The downturn is now a recession, and the government is playing a larger role in trying to revitalize the economy. Over the next few weeks, WFAE will give you more faces of the region's economy - people who are trying to get back on their feet, and people like veteran journalist Glenn Burkins. Burkins saw an opportunity with the election of President Obama. Now, he's trying to capitalize on increased interest in African-American issues and culture with a news web site for the black community. WFAE's Julie Rose reports. The world headquarters of QCityMetro.com are also known as Glenn Burkins' basement. It consists of a computer, desk and chair - a far cry from the comfortable office Burkins had three months ago as a deputy managing editor for The Charlotte Observer. But comfortable isn't what Burkins craves. "I've always had a very bad case of wanderlust," admits Burkins. "I do something for a few years and I'm looking for my next kick." His wanderlust has taken him around the world. The ID tags from his reporting assignments are strung like charms on a metal chain next to his computer. He covered the White House for the Wall Street Journal and Africa for the Philadelphia Inquirer. He thumbs through them, "This is my Rwanda press credential. Uh, Bangladesh - went there with President Clinton." Burkins was at the Charlotte Observer for eight years before embracing a voluntary buyout. He's using the money to launch is latest dream: QCityMetro.com. It's a news website for African Americans in Charlotte. He says it's the most stressful thing he's ever done. "Every morning I'm up at 4 a.m.," says Burkins. "I edit stories, I write stories, I look to see what's on the web - other websites that I can link to." And it goes on like that until 9 or 10 at night. He has to post a steady flow fresh news to keep readers coming back. He hopes to hire some freelance reporters soon - but first he needs to sell some advertising. Ultimately, he wants QCityMetro.com to be the place African Americans in Charlotte go to read about the most important news impacting them: birth and death announcements, church news, health and wellness, local politics - all of it. And all online, which is the need Burkins says is not being met by the monthly Pride Magazine and the weekly Charlotte Post, which bills itself as the Voice of the Black community. "We don't have a monopoly on African American news," says Charlotte Post publisher Gerald Johnson, laughing. He's not threatened by QCityMetro.com because "the bottom line is it's going to inform people about something we aren't doing, then I look at that as a positive and not a negative." There are also a lot of African Americans in Charlotte - particularly young newcomers - who only get their news online. That's QCityMetro's target audience: young, professional and educated, like Allen Price. " I can't think of any venue locally where you can get African American centric news," says Price, while on a lunch break from Bank of America uptown. He's never even heard of The Charlotte Post. But he's ambivalent about the need for a news site targeted at the African American community, because he doesn't think of news as black or white. "I don't want to make the distinction," says Price. "I mean, I think I know enough people in the community to know what's happening in the community. So I don't really need, personally, it'd be useful, but I don't really need, I'm not like 'Oh, I gotta find the black news venue to get the black news in Charlotte.'" He's also getting a lot more of that news on the front page of the daily newspaper, thanks to President Obama, Charlotte Police Chief Rodney Monroe and mayoral candidate Anthony Foxx, to name a few. But even with that coverage, Johnson C. Smith University communications professor Cassandra Wynn says a site like QCityMetro.com has an important role. "What you're gonna have in a niche publication like that is more comprehensive coverage of black opinion leaders, especially on controversial issues," explains Wynn. Whether the story is controversial or not, Burkins says he has an advantage as an African American writing for the African American community. "Mainstream newspapers do a wonderful job writing about the African American community," says Burkins. "They don't do as well writing for the African American community. If they're writing about say Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, they'll say 'The largest church in the African American Community.' They'll feel the need to explain to their readers what this church is." Writing for QCityMetro.com, Burkins says he wouldn't feel the need to explain that. After decades reporting from inside the mainstream media machine, he says he's finally writing in that common language. And though it's a risky move in a tough economy, Johnson C. Smith professor Cassandra Wynn says Burkins' timing couldn't be better. "If you do it anytime, now is the time because I think the Obama campaign - for the African American community - got people interested in politics and in what's happening in the world in a way that I haven't seen before," says Wynn. Which is exactly why Burkins waited until just after the November election to leave the newspaper business and strike out on his own.