Dear Chatham, I trust you


I have a confession: I love you.

Perhaps it sounds melodramatic, but it’s true. Over this past year and three months, I have fallen head over heels for Chatham County. You’ve shown me more about myself than I ever thought possible, picked me up when I was down and most importantly, filled me with stories to last a lifetime.

That love is also what makes saying goodbye so bittersweet.

I have poured my soul into the Chatham News + Record, and you have given me so much in return. But the thing about putting so much of yourself into work is that something else has to give.

There have been countless nights where I lost sleep over you, chose you over my friends and sacrificed my well-being all because I believed in the value of giving you strong local reporting. You deserved news you could rely on, and journalism that showed you the beauty of your community.

I still believe you deserve that. But I also have to trust you’ll be OK without me. And I know, you will be.

As a graduate fresh out of the UNC journalism school, I worried you may take my lack of experience as a reason to ignore me, or not take me seriously. Instead, you welcomed my curiosity with open arms.

You invited me into your churches, community organizations and classrooms. You shared stories of family history, passion projects and even obscure farming practices. And through each of your stories, I became more entranced with your intricacies.

I felt a passion for public education when I learned the ins and outs of Chatham County Schools and its interactions with the state legislature.

I felt the uncertainty of potential birth givers when the only maternal care clinic in the area was under threat of closing down.

I felt the frustration of the Merry Oaks community when plans showed roadway improvements taking their beloved church — the last pillar in a once thriving rural community. 

I have felt the full spectrum of emotions right alongside you as you have endured the highs and lows of this past year. And through it all, I hope I provided you an empathetic ear and an outlet to share your feelings with the community.

Despite the 251 articles I wrote during my time here, however, there are still dozens of stories I’ve left unwritten, big questions I’ve left unasked and hundreds of voices I never heard from. I feel a sense of guilt about it all — that I could and should have done more for you. 

Perhaps at the core of this is the sense that what I do is never good enough, no matter how much of myself I give, but that feels like an issue better suited for my therapist than the local paper. 

In those moments of self-doubt, however, I also find myself leaning more into the trust I have in Chatham. You’ll keep uplifting the voices that matter, asking the questions that demand answers and telling the stories of this beautiful place.

It pains me to admit, but the truth remains: you will be OK without me.

There will always be a special place in my heart for the beautiful people of Chatham County. It’s hard to imagine that love wouldn’t have existed had it not been for the chance now-former News + Record publisher and editor Bill Horner III took on me, and his belief in me to tell stories that mattered. It was his guidance and wisdom that showed me I deserve a place in journalism, and I’m forever indebted to him for the community he created in the newsroom and the community. 

I would also be remiss if I didn’t thank the tremendously talented newsroom of past and present — Jeremy, Maydha, Taylor, Valeria, Victor and Victoria — who have always offered me kindness, grace and friendship while creating a change-making paper week in and week out. 

Of course, I also thank you, the people of Chatham County, for your hospitality and immense pride in your home. Even when you disagreed with my coverage, I know it always came from a place of love, and desire to see the best for your neighbors. 

Later this month I’ll be joining Border Belt Independent where I’ll be covering the thing you all taught me to appreciate: the power of rural communities. 

I’ll miss you all tremendously, but as the old saying goes, if you love something, you have to let it go.

Farewell column, Ben Rappaport, Chatham, CNR