Intern Corps delivered a raft of NC stories and a tryout of pooled local reporting

 

Anton L. Delgado covered a Charlotte protest in June for the NC Local News Intern Corps. Photograph by Grace Terry.

The NC Local News Intern Corps, an idea prompted by the COVID-19 crisis, came together in May and delivered its first stories in early June from a summer newsroom of four reporting interns and a supervising editor. Over the weekend, after the group’s final day, intern Anton L. Delgado delivered an update on Twitter about the team’s impact:

 

Those numbers kept growing this week, and answered one of the questions we had for the Intern Corps: Would newsrooms be able to use stories from a pool?

The answer was yes, with more than 50 editors on our email list by the program’s end: many stories reached a variety of audiences, from mainstream newspapers to Black and Latinx digital media outlets, and some continued getting picked up in the weeks after initial posting.

Now, we’re doing more assessment: surveying editors, talking with the interns, and measuring impact: What does this program show us in terms of the NC Local News Workshop’s goals for strengthening local news?

This wasn’t just an intern program, but also the first initiative of the Workshop, which launched this year as a response to major disruption in local news — the dramatic loss of local journalists in North Carolina and elsewhere, and the opportunities for new approaches to helping people know what’s happening in their own state and communities.

Like the Workshop itself, the Intern Corps aimed to serve the state by boosting support for two key journalism forces: College journalists, who saw internships canceled in the spring amid COVID; and news organizations, which needed more reporting capacity in a year of nonstop major news affecting just about everyone.

The interns covered some spot news, including protests, and they also found stories and went deeper into news topics. Six stories were translated into Spanish and were picked up by bilingual outlets such as La Noticia and Enlace Latino NC.  Stories were picked up by (just a sampling) digital-first outlets such as Qnotes and QCityMetro in Charlotte; established organizations such as the Triangle Tribune and NC Policy Watch;  broadcast-digital outlets such as WFAE and WRAL.com, and newspapers including The News & Observer, The Charlotte Post, and Greensboro News & Record — and many others.

The Intern Corps’ Riley Davis looks for water snakes, and a story, with Nick Massimo, Durham’s “Snake Guru.” Photo by Javik Blake.

Riley Davis, a 2020 master’s degree holder from UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media, reported on challenges of reopening state parks in May, on a “snake guru” from Durham, and teamed up with NC Health News’ Thomas Goldsmith for a two-part deep dive into a private nursing home company whose NC veteran’s nursing homes have seen 36 deaths from COVID. She’s on the hunt now for a permanent job.

Riley and the other interns, picked from a field of 60 who applied in a two-week selection process in May, taught us another lesson: The people make the program. With masks on, working remotely, and jumping into stories with little lead time, this group became a team — a corps in the best sense, encouraging and supporting one another and the program even as they pursued their own coverage.

Marco Quiroz-Gutierrez, who earned his business journalism degree at UNC in May and is a former Daily Tar Heel co-editor in chief, took us into the hard impact of COVID-19 on North Carolina’s Latinx workers and business owners, and reported on protests, food bank shortages, and other topics. Marco, who’s from Wake Forest, is headed for a Wall Street Journal internship beginning in January.

Khaaliq Van-Otoo, an Elon Communications rising junior, reported in July on what church had come to mean amid COVID, visiting (safely) with faith leaders to understand their experience. Earlier, he explored the reboot of sports as it looked in late June, reported on how college students were feeling about coming back to campus, and helped cover some spot news.

Anton L. Delgado (that’s him at the top of this post) was the most prolific in the group, covering protests, COVID-19 testing, the expected wave of evictions facing North Carolina, and more, and produced the story with the most pickup, about bat research and the pandemic. A 2020 Elon Communications graduate in journalism and international relations, Anton also was the Corps’ unofficial publicist and fervent cheerleader, posting frequent updates as the team’s stories appeared in media outlets — including some print front pages.

Anton is headed next for the Arizona Republic, where he’ll be an environmental reporter, a good step in his quest for an investigative journalism career.

We have more to learn and try, but we know a couple of other things. The program had a linchpin: Supervising editor Susan Ladd, an Elon Communications adjunct faculty member and veteran editor and columnist (formerly at the Greensboro News & Record) who edited stories, communicated with editors, managed our content distribution through Dropbox, and coached the reporters.

We also know that the Intern Corps was just one part of how student journalists boosted North Carolina local coverage this summer. We organized weekly brown-bag professional development sessions via Zoom, inviting some 40 interns working in newsrooms around the state either full or part-time, paid and unpaid. About 15-20 showed up each week to sessions with guest speakers who generously donated their time and knowledge.

It takes a village — or an ecosystem — to build the local news we need for North Carolina, a theme you’ll hear more from us here at the NC Local News Workshop. Send comments or suggestions to me or Susan Ladd, and watch this space for more.