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, the issues, and the happenings that are constantly shaping our Hatteras and Ocracoke communities.

The Island Free Press covers and posts the news as it happens, and its writers explain the past, examine the present, and explore the future for residents and visitors alike. Writers familiar to island readers cover everything from recreation to education, from policies to politics, and Shooting the Breeze Blog puts all this in perspective.

The goal of The Island Free Press is not to just 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 PressIrene 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, Ky. 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 first online newspaper on the Outer Banks.

Irene passed away on March 3, 2017, and will be deeply missed by her readers, family, and friends.

Donna Barnett, Publisher – Owner

A Richmond, Va., native, she 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 with their daughter Hannah.  Once on the island, Donna worked as a graphic designer for The Island Breeze for 10 years before starting the The Island Free Press with co-founder Irene Nolan.   Donna is also active in her church, community organizations and is Vice President of the Hatteras Island Cancer Foundation.

Joy Crist, Editor

Joy Crist grew up in western 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 Hatteras Island resident since 1998 and has worked in marketing and information technology. She worked with Irene Nolan for the Island Breeze for years, and joined the Island Free Press team when the newspaper was started in September 2007. Her work has also appeared in a number of regional Outer Banks websites and publications. Joy currently lives in Avon with her dog, multiple cats, and a 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 dozens 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 several 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.

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 here 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 built a small observatory next to his house.


Stephen Smith

Stephen Smith is an Outer Banks realtor with Coldwell Banker Seaside Realty. 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