NC Local for April 14: Newsrooms’ biggest challenge — and ways to tackle it (hint: Rethink, not just return)

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from April 14, including how to get support to attend the Collaborative Journalism Summit, shoutouts for WSOC’s housing series, a new local news website for Davidson County, a new website to guide news organizations on unpublishing content, and lots more about North Carolina’s vibrant local news ecosystem. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox weekly.

By Eric Frederick, NC Local newsletter editor

After more than a year of some of the worst gut punches ever to journalists, Jane Elizabeth says it’s “time to tackle the biggest challenge so far: rebuilding and reconceptualizing the local newsroom.”

Jane Elizabeth
Jane Elizabeth

Elizabeth was managing editor of The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun for 28 months of multiple crises — layoffs, a pandemic, new workflows, social upheaval, disinformation, attacks on the media, political turmoil, McClatchy’s bankruptcy — until she left last November. She’s now a media consultant working with a former employer, the American Press Institute, to identify the most important parts of that “biggest challenge” and jumpstart some solutions we can share … and she needs your help.

Her initial report for API this month identifies seven topics that local news media need to address now, as a starting point for some critical discussions. 

“I just left a situation where I was right in the middle of all of these issues, but I had the advantage of leaving and then being able to evaluate them,” Elizabeth told me. “The idea was just to get people thinking about something else besides ‘when are we going back into the newsroom,’ because that was the only discussion I heard, over and over again … and I was afraid it was distracting from the other things that they’re going to have to face when they get back. 

“But as you know, we’re very bad at planning ahead in journalism.

“I really hope we start making plans for the future. And it’s not a task that should be left up to corporate. It’s something that reporters and everyone in the newsroom need to be thinking about. I think that everybody can look at those seven issues and find one that they’re concerned about.” 

Her report contains suggested actions and also forms for feedback — ideas, solutions being tried, progress, questions — on those seven main topics:

  • How will we hold onto the audiences we gained during the major news events of 2020?
  • How will we target and fight the most prevalent misinformation in our communities?
  • How will we rebuild understaffed beats like health, education and state government?
  • What will be our rapid response to the diversity, equity and inclusion issues within our own newsroom and in our community?
  • How will we build our ability to produce important local investigative journalism?
  • How can we add more resources to our staff after years of layoffs and the potential for more?
  • How will we care for the mental health of our people?

Elizabeth said she had heard from many nonprofit newsrooms, where “there’s a lot of creativity going on,” and had received a lot of feedback about DEI issues. She told me she also “would like to hear about things that maybe we didn’t think about” — other challenges that journalists need to address. She’ll reach out to many respondents for a deeper discussion, and a follow-up report later this year will talk about potential solutions. 

➡️ Read Elizabeth’s report and follow the links to join the discussion.