A year of growth for The Charlotte Ledger
This newsletter continues to add readers and paying members, who support reliable and important local information for Charlotte. More expansions planned in 2022.
(^ You can listen to Ledger editor Tony Mecia read this letter to readers by clicking above)
Dear Ledger reader:
It’s the end of 2021, the time of the year when organizations look back and look ahead.
At The Ledger, we’ll try to spare you the overly sappy reflections, but we do think it’s healthy to share with our readers what we’ve done and where we’re heading. We can exist only because of our readers’ support, so we think you deserve periodic updates on how our business is doing.
The short version: In 2021, we continued growing, with more paying members climbing aboard, more people hearing about us and more efforts on our part to experiment with new things that readers might like. We plan to keep that up in 2022.
The longer version: Man, we did a lot. We sent 292 email newsletters, broke a ton of news, highlighted trends and introduced you to fascinating people in our city. We are pretty sure we made you smarter and better-informed.
We made about half our articles free to everyone. The other half were for our community of paying members. For full access and to support our work, why not become a member today?
Some of the work we are most proud of includes:
Investigations: We shared some ambitious investigative pieces, including in-depth looks at the sexual assault allegations at Myers Park High, an unexpected $10,000 colonoscopy bill from Atrium Health, the decline of the Arts & Science Council (🔒) and the trend toward replacing pediatricians with nurses in hospital nurseries.
New newsletters: We started 2 new newsletters this year — Ways of Life (obituaries); and Transit Time, in conjunction with WFAE and UNC Charlotte’s Urban Institute. Not to brag (too much), but Transit Time was named “Best Local Newsletter” by Queen City Nerve and won a national award from our trade group, Local Independent Online News (LION), for “Collaboration of the Year.”
Trends: Because we are connected to Charlotte, we clued you in to interesting and important trends before they became widely apparent. Supply chain disruptions? We looked into the causes (🔒) months before politicians made it a talking point. Book shortages? We told you about them two weeks before the New York Times. Wild bidding wars for houses? We shared Realtors’ eye-opening stories (🔒) a week before The Wall Street Journal had the same idea. And when teens started stocking up on feta cheese in February because of a TikTok video, guess which local newsletter was ON IT — two weeks before The New York Times took note.
The Ledger displayed plenty of range in 2021. Clockwise, from upper left: Midnight hockey in Pineville; J.T. Williams, one of N.C.’s first Black surgeons, who became a politician and diplomat; feta cheese supplies running low in February; the prototype of a drive-thru-only Bojangles in Cotswold; analysis of enrollment declines at south Charlotte public schools; a financial salesman who pursued his dream of opening an east Charlotte reptile shop; the bread-only “Sandwiche” from the fictional Breadland restaurant in our April Fools’ edition; pickleball action heats up among newly vaccinated Sun City residents.
Interesting people: We introduced you to Charlotte people with stories to tell and lessons to share, including an Atrium Covid ICU nurse who experienced the pandemic through different eyes when her grandmother became ill with the virus; newly vaccinated seniors in Sun City who were happy to resume playing pickleball and attending Saturday night ’60s dance parties again; a Broadway fan who received a get-well video message from Lin-Manuel Miranda; investors who put money into tech company AvidXchange and waited 20 years to reap big windfalls (🔒); and relocated Northerners who play hockey at midnight in Pineville.
Interviews: We gave you Q&As with well-known and fascinating Charlotte people, including former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl Jr. (🔒); former mayors Sue Myrick and Harvey Gantt (🔒); the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art’s new executive director, Todd Smith; Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s new CEO, Marcellus “MT” Turner; and basketball broadcast analyst Jay Bilas (🔒).
Growth and development: The story of Charlotte is the story of growth, and we have continued to offer unparalleled and authoritative local coverage of this important topic — from insights on the 2040 Comprehensive Plan (🔒); to development trends in Sugar Creek (🔒), NoDa (🔒), west Charlotte (🔒), Ballantyne, SouthPark (🔒) and University City (🔒); to repeated scoops on land deals and development plans and, of course, our popular monthly listing of Charlotte’s rezoning petitions🔥 (🔒).
Series: We delivered several series of themed articles in 2021, including A Better You, with advice from local experts on how to improve yourself; Urban Adventures, in which we introduced you to exciting parts of Charlotte’s urban core; Second Acts, with stories of people who made career transitions later in life; the second season of Flyover Friday, in partnership with The 5 and 2 Project, which uses video and drone footage to examine development trends; Historical Heavyweights, examining the lives of influential Charlotte historical figures; Entrepreneur Week (🔒), in which local business founders shared their insights; and Legends of Charlotte (🔒), featuring interviews with some of the city’s longtime movers and shakers. We also just finished a five-week run of locally focused crossword puzzles.
We could keep going — turning over authorship of a newsletter to an artificial intelligence program called Jarvis … letting 4th and 5th graders at Ballantyne Elementary produce a newsletter … launching an audio version of The Ledger on Spotify … crafting an all-too-believable April Fools’ edition … holding our second annual 40 Over 40 awards … in-depth coverage of the ABC liquor shortage (🔒) and of controversial expansion plans at Myers Park Country Club (🔒). …
The point is, it was a productive and fun year, thanks to our network of talented freelancers and partners, our newsletter sponsors and you.
I started The Ledger nearly three years ago because — as someone who cares about Charlotte and believes reliable information is vital to a functioning society — I was disappointed with the decline in responsible and important local journalism. I’m happy to report that I believe The Ledger is now consistently producing smart news for people who care about our city. We’re doing it without the benefit of common tactics that personally annoy me and probably you, such as embarrassingly enthusiastic coverage of restaurants and bars, irritating ads that render articles almost unreadable, absurd clickbait headlines that purposefully omit key information, pay-to-play marketing arrangements, half-baked and biased “news reporting” and so on.
As of this week, The Ledger has 11,000 people who have signed up to receive our emails. Nearly one-quarter of those people are paying members. We’re not the largest local outlet, and we don’t aim to be. Rather, we’re trying to produce a high-quality product for people who appreciate it. More like a fine wine, not a box of Franzia.
Our financial numbers are strong: Membership revenue, which accounts for about 5/6 of the money we take in, rose 84% this year. Our expenses are up, too, because producing quality local journalism isn’t cheap. But overall, we’re encouraged by the growth and grateful for our paying members whose support allows us to expand and experiment.
What’s next: So where do we go from here? Our main focus will be continuing to deliver high-quality, original information for Charlotte. That won’t change. We will continue experimenting with new ways to reach new people and serve our readers. We have plans in 2022 to hold more in-person and online events, building on the success of the Charlotte marketing series (in conjunction with online events company Jumbo), the forum on college admissions (🔒) and the happy hour with the editors (🔒) that we held this year.
Mark your calendar for April 28, when we are holding our first-ever in-person awards celebration for our 40 Over 40 recipients. Nominations for those awards, now in their third year, open next month, and we will honor these people who are making important contributions to our community at a fun, ’80s-themed party that we’ve been working on for the last couple months.
In the future, we envision starting newsletters on additional local topics. We foresee adding more full-time staffers to join me and managing editor Cristina Bolling and continuing to increase our use of talented freelance writers. We are purposefully set up differently than other media companies: We’re a locally owned business that is self-financed, and we don’t have (and don’t want) deep-pocketed out-of-state corporate owners or lucrative ad deals paying the bills. We’re content to grow steadily in a way that ensures we are serving our readers as our main customers.
Executive editor, The Charlotte Ledger
Thanks for letting us into your inbox in the mornings. Cheers to you and your family for 2022.
One parting thought: Charlotte charitable giving recommendations
If you’re looking for a last-minute, end-of-the-year tax deduction for 2021, you might consider giving to local charities. We asked our community of paying members for recommendations — here’s their list of where they’re donating their money and time:
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