About The Island Free Press

The Island Free Press is the first and only online newspaper serving both Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands’ locals and visitors.

The newspaper made its debut on Sept. 5, 2007, and has grown since then in coverage, content, and popularity with readers on and off the islands. The mission of the Island Free Press is to cover the people, issues, and happenings that are constantly shaping our Hatteras and Ocracoke communities.

The Island Free Press publishes the news as it happens, and its writers explain the past, examine the present, and explore the future for residents and visitors alike. Veteran writers who are familiar to island readers cover everything from recreation to education, from policies to politics, and our commentaries and Editor’s Blogs put all this information into perspective.

The goal of the Island Free Press is not just to provide more information about the islands, but to encourage a better conversation about the issues that face islanders and visitors every day. We believe that the extensive, interesting, and varied content in our newspaper will serve our communities, and at the same time, attract the wide cross-section of readers that our advertisers want to reach.

Our Team

Irene Nolan, Founder

Irene Nolan, Founder, Island Free Press

Irene Nolan was the founder, co-owner, and editor of the Island Free Press. She visited Hatteras Island for more than 35 years before moving in 1991. Prior to coming to the island, she was a veteran journalist who spent 22 years as a reporter and editor at The Courier-Journal, a statewide newspaper based in Louisville, Kentucky. Irene was the managing editor of the newspaper for the last five years of her tenure there, and during that time, the newspaper staff won a Pulitzer Prize under her leadership.

Irene brought her groundbreaking talents to the Outer Banks when she moved to the island, and she quickly sculpted the Island Breeze into one of the premier news periodicals in the region. She was editor of the Island Breeze for 16 years before breaking new ground once again by creating the Island Free Press in 2007, the very first online newspaper on the Outer Banks.

Irene passed away on March 3, 2017, and is deeply missed by her readers, family, and friends, although the Island Free Press continues to follow her foundational values and goals for our local newspaper.

Donna Barnett, Publisher – Owner

A Richmond, Virginia native, Donna has been visiting Hatteras Island all of her life and spent her childhood summers in Salvo. After attending college, she spent ten years as a paralegal in Richmond and moved to Hatteras in 1997, shortly before her marriage to Hatteras native Charlie Barnett. They live in Hatteras village. Once on the island, Donna worked as a graphic designer for The Island Breeze for ten years before starting the Island Free Press in 2007 with co-founder Irene Nolan. Donna is also active in her church, local community organizations, and is the Vice President of the Hatteras Island Cancer Foundation. Donna manages the business, advertising, website development, and marketing side of the Island Free Press and has helped guide the newspaper to a total of 53 North Carolina Press Association (NCPA) Awards since 2019. When she is not in the office, she spends her time cooking, gardening, exploring the beach, and enjoying time with her children and grandchildren.

Joy Crist, Editor

Joy Crist grew up in New York, West Virginia, and Massachusetts, and graduated from North Carolina State University with a degree in English and a concentration in language, writing, and editing. She has been a full-time Hatteras Island resident since the 1990s, although she spent every summer in Avon since around 1984. Joy started working with Irene Nolan for the Island Breeze in 2002. She joined the Island Free Press team when the newspaper was launched in September 2007, and was named editor when Irene passed away in March 2017. In addition to the Island Breeze and Island Free Press, her work has appeared in a number of regional, state, and national publications. Joy currently lives in Avon with her dog, multiple cats, and her long-suffering but extremely gracious husband. When she’s not writing, Joy can be found obsessively scouring the beach for seashells or traveling to the mountains to see what life is like above sea level.

Writers and Photographers

Catherine Kozak

Catherine Kozak has been a reporter and writer on the Outer Banks since 1995. She worked for 15 years for The Virginian Pilot. Born and raised in the suburbs outside New York City, Catherine earned her journalism degree from the State University of New York at New Paltz. During her career, she has written about hundreds of environmental issues, including oil and gas exploration, wildlife habitat protection, sea level rise, wind energy production, shoreline erosion, and beach nourishment. She currently writes freelance articles for the Island Free Press and several other Outer Banks and state publications. She lives in Nags Head.

Don Bowers

Don Bowers, Photographer, Island Free Press

Don Bowers has been a professional photographer since 1999. He first picked up a camera in his high school years in the 1970s here on Hatteras Island, taking and developing pictures for the school’s folklore magazine Sea Chest. Don’s photos have appeared in local, regional, and national publications, and he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 2012 for his feature photography in the Island Free Press. He has been the IFP staff photographer since its beginning in 2007, and his photos and artwork hang in many businesses here on the island.

Jack Danz

Jack Danz grew up in Pennsylvania and studied journalism at Temple University in Philadelphia – go birds. At school, he wrote for the Temple News and Fourteenth Street magazine. Jack grew up visiting Hatteras Island during the summer. After graduating college, he moved to Avon full-time and worked serving tables, bartending, doing construction, fishing, and reporting. He is excited to be a part of the Island Free Press. Outside of work, Jack is usually sailing, hunting, or reading.



Kristin Hissong

Kristin Hissong is a North Carolina native, a UNC Charlotte graduate, an Outer Banks resident of nearly 20 years, and a dedicated, “professional beachcomber.” She has spent more than 20,000 hours walking on both our local shores and shorelines around the Eastern Seaboard, and has collected thousands upon thousands of items from the Atlantic Ocean.

For the past decades or so, she has been beachcombing on Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands every day, collecting both treasures and trash on her routine expeditions. From typewriters to coffee makers, fishing rods to recliners, if you name it, there’s a good chance she has seen it washed up, and has hauled it back to her collection, or to the closest dumpster.

James D. “Keeper James” Charlet

Born and raised in south Louisiana, James lived in England as a teenager but graduated from high school in New Jersey. He moved to the Outer Banks early 1990s, discovered the United States Life-Saving Service, and became Site Manager of Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station Historic Site & Museum from 2005 until 2015. Starting in 2015, James became the sole proprietor of “Keeper James Presentations” and he is the founder, Chairman & CEO of the Outer Banks Coast Guard History Preservation Group. James is the author of Shipwrecks of the Outer Banks: Dramatic Rescues and Fantastic Wrecks in the Graveyard of the Atlantic, Volume I, and Shipwreck Rescues of the Outer Banks: Sensational Wrecks and 

Heroic Rescues by the United States Life-Saving Service. James was also a North Carolina history teacher for 25 years, and has 30 years of experience with Outer Banks’ historical interpretation, in addition to being the author of other NC history books, supplements, and articles.


Gerry Lebing

Gerry Lebing, Writer, Island Free Press

Gerry Lebing is a retired computer scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Washington, D.C.  He has visited Hatteras Island since the mid-1970s. He and his wife, Karen, have owned property on the island for several years and moved to their home in Waves full-time in 2013. Astronomy is a subject that Gerry says he has always been interested in and one that he pursues seriously – he’s even built a small observatory next to his house.


Stephen Smith

Stephen Smith is an award-winning Outer Banks Realtor. He was recognized in 2021 as one of the top 10% of Coldwell Banker agents worldwide.  He has lived on the Outer Banks for nearly 20 years and met his lovely wife on Hatteras Island. They currently reside in Nags Head with their daughter, but Hatteras Island is still home in many ways. For questions on the Hatteras Island or greater OBX real estate market, you can contact Stephen directly at stephen@cbseaside.com or 252-216-9230.  His website is https://www.stephensmithobx.com, or you can receive his weekly newsletter by signing up at https://mailchi.mp/43cd4a4bf1a6/obxnewsletter