NC Local for Jan. 20: Are we covering the right power?

By Eric Frederick, NC Local newsletter editor

[Also in the Jan. 20 edition: A new collaborative analysis available to NC local media shows (literally) a network view of 2020 NC campaign giving; how media can help local arts communities through the pandemic; jobs, opportunities, and COVID reporting help) . Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox each week]

Change, paradoxically, is our constant. (There’s a big one happening in DC, right about now.)

People and institutions — especially institutions — often forget that fact. They get comfortable. But every day, if we’re paying attention, we learn something. We get new perspectives, we understand things we didn’t; and if we’re smart, we apply that knowledge. Think about January 2020. How different our approaches and philosophies were, just 12 months ago.

If the news and information community is to continue to empower our quest for a healthy society, we must adapt — every day.

Aside from being my philosophy of life, that was one of my key takeaways from the first NC Local News Summit last week, “The Power of Many,” hosted by the NC Local News Workshop at Elon University with support from the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media at UNC. The name itself suggests a change that has happened over the past decade — the realization that we can do more by leveraging the talents of each of us, rather than being rigidly and relentlessly competitive.

If you’re not one of the 150 or so people who attended the Zoom summit, I recommend the video of the speakers’ presentations. Each speaker talked about some species of transformation.

Today and in weeks to come, I’ll highlight some of their key insights:

COLLABORATION

Ju-Don Marshall, chief content officer and executive vice president, WFAE

The WFAE team is a model of collaboration (see their many partnerships at 6:35 on the video). Collaborations, Marshall said, allow news organizations to reach wider, more diverse and underserved audiences; to fill gaps in staff knowledge and skills; to fill gaps in content served; to deepen engagement, listening and understanding; to increase cultural competency; to build talent pipelines; and to innovate.

She offered lots of superb advice, but this is the bit that stuck with me:

‘Collaborations really have to be treated like a partnership of equals. … You can’t have a mindset of, we’re the big organization, and we’re providing value to the partner. … It’s an equal exchange of value.’

Go to 15:57 on the video for her superb list of tips.

PEOPLE POWER

Cierra Hinton, executive director-publisher at Scalawag and director of network-building and strategy at Press On 

Hinton’s talk was called “Abolish the Fourth Estate” — referring to the proverbial role of the press, reporting on those in power and working “apart from regular people and their communities.” And “this disconnect manifests as distrust,” she said. We need to be doing journalism differently, particularly in regard to race and privilege, and “bringing nearly half of the American population back into the conversation.”

‘We uphold power to the benefit of the same powerful figures we claim to hold accountable. … Newsrooms need to start covering the people‘s power … to cover people-power like it is the power that drives our democracy — because it is.’

Read HInton’s call to action here or watch it at 1:05:30 on the video.

AUDIENCE IN CHARGE

Les High, publisher, The News Reporter, Whiteville

High described how his family-owned, print-legacy operation, around for 125 years, has changed to survive, particularly since it was in the first Table Stakes cohort at UNC in 2017. (Its performance challenge was “not to go out of business.”) The big change was to put the audience in the driver’s seat.

‘We can’t dictate what the news is from the top down like we did 20 years ago. We have to involve our audience … (including) just getting out in the public and listening.’

The playbook: Use of analytics, metered website, apps, newsletters, events, and new ways of reaching the audience — as when The News Reporter became “the emergency broadcast system for Columbus County” on Facebook Live during Hurricane Florence. High’s advice: Experiment and follow the data; collaborate; find help (from journalism organizations and local benefactors).

See his full presentation starting at 1:22:15 on the video.

Resources… and more to come

➡️ Here’s the Big Resource Document from the summit: Links and resources from all of the speakers, presentations and breakout sessions.

➡️ We’ll have more takeaways next week. I’d also love to hear and share your thoughts. My DMs are open, and you can also email me.