‘Take it into the town square’

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from Jan. 5 for more on this story, a tribute to Mary Alice Jervay Thatch, the latest updates about journalists and news organizations throughout the state, job opportunities and more. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

A few days ago, I asked several leaders and influencers in North Carolina’s news and information community a question:

Where should we focus our energy in 2022?

Here are some of their insights:

Work together

CHRIS RUDISILL, director, Charlotte Journalism Collaborative; project manager, QnotesCarolinas:

Of course, I’d say that collaboration will continue to be key to North Carolina news in 2022, but more importantly, I think we’ll see unexpected collaborations really show what’s possible. How can local news and neighborhood associations tackle problems? How can artists help us tell stories? How can we move news from the social media framework that has disrupted trust and take it into the town square to create opportunities for community news sharing and creation? That’s what I’m excited to see more of in 2022.

KYLE VILLEMAIN, founder and editor in chief, The Assembly:

Focus on deeper partnerships. Amplifying other outlets’ work and even formally co-publishing that work is helpful and useful. But more partnerships should involve shared costs: big outlets giving resources to small outlets, editors and reporters from different outlets working from the start on story scope and execution, a data team at a big outlet paired with a reporter from a small one. It’s riskier and takes a leap of faith. But moving — more often — from partnerships that amplify what is already being created, to partnerships that create something that couldn’t be produced alone, is a worthy place to spend our collective energy in 2022.

LES HIGH, publisher, The Border Belt Independent:

There’s an evolving spirit of collaboration and cooperation among North Carolina news media we should continue to foster in 2022. I’m encouraged to see both for-profit and non-profit newsrooms working together to fill the vacuum created by news deserts and shrinking reporting staffs. Journalists seem to have drawn a line in the sand and said, “We’re tired of playing defense.” The result has been a number of highly impactful stories or series of stories that did North Carolina journalism proud.

MELODY KRAMER, communications director, Carolina Demography:

2022 is going to be a busy year. We’ll see the results of redistricting, the midterm elections will take place, and we’ll likely see a lot of misinformation circulating around these two topics. COVID isn’t going anywhere. Our state’s primaries have been delayed. North Carolina passed a biennium budget. And the Leandro plan may progress to the NC Supreme Court. We have a full docket of complicated topics that are hard to understand and hard to explain.

We hope that part of the focused energy is not tackling these topics solely in newsrooms. Invite in academic collaborators. Invite in libraries. Invite in the NC Census Counts Task Force, a network of 70+ organizations that helped increase the Census count in historically marginalized communities. Work with community health centers.

We all want the same outcomes — for high-quality, trusted information to reach the public. So we’re going to have to collaborate — and get funding to make these efforts sustainable (and in some cases, drop the paywall.)

Working together will benefit us all. Our applied demography group worked with dozens of newsrooms across the state in 2020 to help both reporters and audiences make sense of the 2020 Census, which now shapes how billions of dollars in federal funding are distributed over the next decade. From you, we learned what areas caused confusion, which then influenced our presentations, blog posts, and white papers.

We plan to do more of this collaborative work in 2021, and are energized by the idea of working with your organizations along the way.

    ➵ Newsrooms, social scientists, public health professionals, and librarians unite. Melody Kramer, Nieman Lab’s Predictions for Journalism 2022.

Bear down on crucial issues

BERVETTE CARREE, vice president of news, ABC11/WTVD:

The news and information community should focus their energy on impactful storytelling to help the audience cope with navigating the challenges of entering a third year of a global pandemic. How can people continue to move forward with safety, hope and resiliency while still addressing their fears and misinformation of COVID-19? Additionally, the affordable housing crisis is a persistent problem across our state and the nation. Homeownership is unattainable for many families, while the cost of rent is also skyrocketing. The problem is even more pervasive in underrepresented communities.

PAOLA JARAMILLO, co-founder and executive director, Enlace Latino NC:

The most important topics will be elections, COVID vaccination, and economic recovery. In addition, and in case Congress takes action, immigration reform.

Demand accountability

KATE MARTIN, lead investigative reporter, Carolina Public Press:

Be curious about your community. Ask questions. File records requests. Importantly, follow up on those requests and ask why they won’t provide them to you (calendar reminders help). File appeals when they won’t give you records. Get them on the record. Fight for accountability. Your community depends on you, your expertise and your access.

BOB GREMILLION, publisher, Asheville Watchdog:

I would encourage all of our local news colleagues to try and set aside some reporter time and energy to take on an important investigative issue or two. Not only is it good for your audience, it lets our reporters stretch out their wings and diversify their range of experiences. And it puts elected officials and local governments on notice that our bright spotlight hasn’t dimmed.

Put community (and trust) first

ANGIE NEWSOME, founder, executive director and editor, Carolina Public Press:

I want to focus my and Carolina Public Press’s energy in better serving North Carolinians who are shut out of participating in democracy, either by fomented distrust or reduced access to trustworthy information. And, relatedly, how can we reduce or eliminate current and threatened news deserts? Sustaining and strengthening access to trustworthy local news is where I believe we should focus, versus chasing an attractive but short-term transactional boost in audience and/or revenue.

LEAH BOYD, editor in chief, The Chronicle at Duke University:

Our goal in 2022 should be to prioritize making information as accessible and digestible for readers as possible. We’ve seen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic the harm that spreading disinformation can do and how hard it is to correct false information once it circulates—which it often does rather quickly. How can we use our increasingly digital, innovative presences to reach as many people as possible with helpful information? What stories, if any, are we putting behind paywalls, and how can we balance sustaining our outlets and doing justice to the communities we serve by getting everyone information they need to know? Let’s pay close attention to how we word our headlines, how we present data and how we characterize our circumstances to make sure we’re including all the context necessary to accurately inform our readers of public health updates. Let’s highlight the importance of now in the best way we can.

ERICA PEREL, director, Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media at UNC:

This year, the NC news and information community has an opportunity and a choice: to continue to frame elections as a race or a contest between two rival sports teams, or to center the needs of their communities in elections coverage. News organizations should consider the desired outcome to be full, free and informed participation by North Carolina voters, and pursue strategies and tactics to reach that outcome: Listen to your audience, meet them where they are, report accordingly.

Be a servant

MEBANE RASH, CEO and editor in chief, EdNC:

My insights are questions I will ask myself daily:

  • With the trifecta of the pandemic + midterm politics + climate instability and the ongoing toll on those who work with us, am I focused on communication and wellness with my team? Is caring for them my priority? How am I showing up in their lives?
  • As we move from pandemic to endemic, am I showing up IN PERSON in the lives of those we serve and report on?
  • As the leader of a newsroom, is DEI + belonging on my mind every minute of every hour of every day?

    ➵ Mebane is my leader at EdNC, where I’m a part-time editor. And yes, that’s the sound of her voice, every day.