We’re listening…

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Greetings, NC Local readers!

Shannan Bowen

“Wow, there are so many great people working in North Carolina!” I keep thinking about this comment from an out-of-state colleague during a conversation about my first few months as executive director of the NC Local News Workshop. I was describing to my colleague the new projects, businesses, roles and collaborations in news across our state.

I hear comments like this often. People outside North Carolina are truly impressed with the network of talented journalists and information providers and their dedication to informing their communities. Their work is being recognized nationally, too:

(More on the latter two from Eric, below.)

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t still work to do to strengthen the local news ecosystem in North Carolina.

I recently marked the 90-day point of my new role with a presentation to the Workshop’s inaugural advisory board, to highlight the focus and vision of the Workshop. I was fortunate to have stepped into an organization with a clearly defined mission already established by founding executive director Melanie Sill.

The Workshop was established to connect people through partnerships and networking; to convene organizations to support inclusiveness, problem-solving, innovation and professional dialogue; and to build capacity through solution-oriented programs. What we need now is a North Star vision for the state’s news ecosystem, and a strategy for how the Workshop will position itself to meet its mission and achieve our vision.

As I told the inaugural board last week: The vision I’ve outlined is to support an ecosystem with sustainable and community-serving news and information organizations in all 100 counties. We envision a news and information ecosystem that is collaborative and equitably operating, too. But we can’t get there without listening to the communities that our news and information organizations serve. 

That’s why the Workshop’s primary focus through 2022 will be on community listening and engagement. Through our initiatives, we will seek to better understand the needs of our communities — defined demographically in addition to geographically — and help our communities form relationships with the news and information organizations serving them.

This focus is already taking shape in several ways. First, the NC Media Equity Project is hosting a statewide community listening event (virtually) next week, focusing on hearing news and information needs from communities of color and other groups that are traditionally underrepresented by news organizations. Though our Media Equity Project pilot cohort is wrapping up its program next month, we are committed to continuing this project in 2022.

Community listening also means listening to our journalists and others from news and information organizations. Together with Lizzy Hazeltine, coordinator of the NC Local News Lab Fund, I’m hosting two upcoming regional media roundtable events: a Wilmington-area Media Roundtable and a Western NC Media Roundtable, to start.

Also, I plan to host virtual networking and learning opportunities at least once a month. We’ll spotlight businesses or individuals and their work, or we’ll host a webinar on a professional topic of interest. Next week, you can join our lunchtime Zoom meetup with Kyle Villemain, founder and editor of the new digital magazine The Assembly.

There are even more opportunities for you to be involved with the Workshop and our future programs. Our inaugural, founding advisory board is ending its service, and I’m creating a shared board with the NC Local News Lab Fund. Calls for applications to serve on this board will open in early 2022, when we’ll share more details. In the meantime, I have created four committees to serve the Workshop and its work. They will give participants the opportunity to share their perspective and voice on specific topics and programming for the Workshop. The committees, outlined below, are expected to meet monthly as a group and communicate over Slack or email as the need arises. If you are interested in joining, please fill out this form.

Fundraising: Advises on fundraising strategies and scopes funding opportunities for Workshop programs.

Community: Creates opportunities to connect journalists and information providers across NC’s local news ecosystem through Slack, community listening sessions and other events.

Programming and Summit: Provides input and ideas for ongoing programming, such as monthly topic webinars or special events. Also assists in planning for an annual statewide summit.

Media Equity: Advises on programming for the NC Media Equity Project.

I’m excited about our focus and the year ahead. I’m also committed to practicing what I preach and meeting with communities across our state, including our journalists and information providers. Though the pandemic has affected my plans to travel and meet with organizations and communities in person, I’m meeting virtually with groups and individuals each day and also trying to create opportunities that are outdoors with masks encouraged. I’ve enjoyed my informal listening tour thus far, but I know there are many more organizations in our state that I’d like to visit virtually or safely in person. If you’d like to connect, please drop me a line.

Shannan Bowen

executive director, NC Local News Workshop