I remember the first story that I, then a curious, wannabe journalist in my early twenties, read in the INDY that really stuck with me.

Written by Vernal Coleman, the piece profiled Clarence Bender, a down-on-his-luck 2012 North Carolina state senate candidate. So down that, while trying to unseat Republican stalwart E. S. “Buck” Newton in Nash County, Bender was arrested on his way to the polls for allegedly selling oxycodone to an undercover DEA agent. His campaign was flailing. He had no support from the Democratic Party and couldn’t raise any money. He went to jail for weeks in the middle of early voting. And yet, through all of that, Bender still thought he would beat Buck Newton “in a landslide.”

It was a story unlike what you would read elsewhere in the local media. In a manner both forthright and empathetic, it painted the picture of a complicated person, a commissioner in small-town Castalia with a spotty employment history, on good terms with his ex-wife and six children but “a con man” in the eyes of some neighbors, with an irrepressible sense of optimism despite it all. A lot of North Carolina’s political and electoral history is packed into that story’s lines, and it’s one that likely wouldn’t exist in the public record at all had the INDY not been paying attention. 

My first INDY cover story—February 27, 2013.

I joined the INDY as an intern shortly after reading that piece, and more permanently as a staff writer in 2013. I remember my first cover story—a profile of Chad Johnston, the executive director of the People’s Channel, who was leaving the state after a decade of work in public access television. I covered coal ash, city council (Raleigh’s, that is), and police killings as a staff writer. In 2021, mid-pandemic, I came on board again as the editor in chief, bringing all that I learned from my INDY colleagues from over the years, including Lisa Sorg, Susan Harper, Grayson Haver Currin, Bob Geary, Barry Yeoman, Billy Ball, Paul Blest, and Jeff Billman. 

Now, I’m writing on the INDY’s 40th anniversary to both look back on all that the paper has achieved and to look forward to what’s to come.  

In his feature “The Paper Route,” longtime INDY writer Brian Howe reflects on a storied founding and decades of commanding journalism. He pays tribute to an institution firmly embedded in its communities, unbeholden to the powers that be, and dedicated to telling the stories of people like Clarence Bender, extraordinary in their regularness, or often just plain extraordinary. Howe speaks with Richard Meeker, the INDY’s owner since 2012, about the future of alternative and weekly news outlets. And we have a timeline that captures some of the INDY’s most important reporting over the years. To top it all off, we have a nice look back from staff writer Thomasi McDonald, whose fate with the “hometown paper” became intertwined along his circuitous career through North Carolina newsrooms.

We’re also happy to announce what’s next, beginning with a new partner in the upstart digital media outlet The Assembly that we believe will help guide us through a precarious financial situation to emerge a stronger, better-resourced, and better-rested newsroom.

There will be some changes—no more statewide news coverage, for instance, and we’ll soon operate on a biweekly print schedule that will free us up to go deeper on the hyperlocal news, arts, and culture reporting that our readers have come to know and depend on. 

We’ll expand our food, arts, music, investigative, and accountability reporting. We’ll announce several new exciting partnerships. And all of our journalism from our talented, hardworking team of writers, editors, and creatives—McDonald, Lena Geller, Jasmine Gallup, Sarah Edwards, Geoff West, Iza Wojciechowska, Nicole Pajor Moore, Izzel Flores, and Brett Villena, not to mention our many freelancers, and countless other contributors—will remain free online and in print. Thanks also to our publisher John Hurld and our sales director Mathias Marchington for paying the bills and keeping the lights on and to owner Meeker for always making payroll, guiding us with a steady hand, and securing a promising future. We brought the paper through a global pandemic, but we all still feel like we have a lot more work to do.

I’m not sure what ever happened to Clarence Bender—he didn’t win his state senate campaign after all, and his opponent went on to champion the odious House Bill 2—but Coleman, the former INDY reporter who told Bender’s story, went on to win a Pulitzer Prize as part of an investigative team at The Boston Globe in 2021. Such is the caliber of the talent that has emerged from this scrappy community newspaper. 

It feels like a new day for the INDY. Thank you for your readership over these last 40 years (not to mention your financial support for Press Club). 

Here’s to 40 years more.

Support independent local journalism

Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.