College journalists filling community gaps

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from Sept. 15 for more on this story and to read about The News & Observers newest editor, accolades for journalists across the state and more. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

When Poynter’s Kristen Hare wrote recently about places where college journalists were going off campus to help fill news and information gaps in nearby communities, I was reminded of similar things happening here in North Carolina. 

I reached out to more than a dozen places in the state where college students are helping to inform communities off campus, and I heard back from several of them. Here’s what they’re up to:

Queens University

The Queens University News Service was created by former Charlotte Observer editor Rick Thames, visiting professor and executive in residence in the Knight

School of Communication at Queens, and Bob Page, the school’s director of digital projects and advisor to student media. It is aligned with the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative, a partnership of 10 news and information outlets in the area.

Read moreCollege journalists filling community gaps

Update: NC Media Equity Project

This week, the newsletter features my friend and mentor Melanie Sill, creator of this newsletter and the founding interim executive director of its home, the NC Local News Workshop. Check out the full NC Local newsletter from Sept. 8 for more from Melanie. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

How can North Carolina local news organizations engage and serve people they have long overlooked or undervalued — including Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) residents, and others who’ve been marginalized by media organizations’ culture and practices as well as in news coverage?

Melanie Sill
Melanie Sill

For nearly a year, six media partners and the NC Local News Workshop at Elon University have been working (individually and collectively) to make long-delayed progress on that complex question, brought together in a pilot program called the NC Media Equity Project.

The project was launched in the fall of 2020 by the Local News Workshop, which had just started up at the Elon School of Communications, inspired by national conversations and calls to action on addressing racism and inequity in journalism and media. Workshop leaders built the project in partnership with a half-dozen North Carolina outlets that had identified the need for change as urgent and were committing significant resources to DEI work (diversity, equity and inclusion).

While they represent different approaches to informing North Carolina, some of the outlets voiced similar goals and struggles — and, like much of the state’s media, were predominantly white in their staff makeup, coverage and audience. They recognized historic gaps and challenges in serving an increasingly diverse state, made more urgent in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd, the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement and other events sparked new recognition of racism’s role in ongoing inequity — including in media.

We wondered: Could collaboration on DEI yield the kind of learning and broader gain we’ve seen from other kinds of collaborative projects in media?

Read moreUpdate: NC Media Equity Project

Let’s talk about relationships

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from Sept. 1 for more on this report, to learn more about the NC Local News Workshop on the road to meet news organizations across the state, for a glimpse into timely books by journalists with deep North Carolina ties, the journalist accolades and more. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

Eric here. If you haven’t read the Nieman Lab piece by Durham’s John Zhu on the usefulness of local reporting on schools (particularly coverage by The News & Observer), it’s here. It was adapted from a post on his blog, Palette.

I’d say he sums up his critique of common news philosophy when he writes that “covering school board meetings doesn’t serve the community if you

John Zhu
John Zhu

are not actually covering the things that the community wants and needs to know about its schools.” In his case, that mostly means reporting on schools’ specific measures to protect their charges from COVID. His was a call for less reactive reporting and for more proactive coverage — answering readers’ questions on unresolved issues, holding leaders’ feet to the fire. 

(Before we go further: As many of you know, I spent more than three decades in the N&O newsroom, ending in February 2019.)

Zhu, a communications professional, was a sports correspondent in Durham for three years before working for several years in design and editing on the sports desks of The Herald-Sun and The State in Columbia.

He says his critique could apply to the state of local news almost anywhere.

Read moreLet’s talk about relationships

Where the citizens fill the gaps

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from August 25 for more on this report, to learn more about The Charlotte Observer’s new executive editor, Rana Cash, to read briefs about the news industry across the state, to view a list of who’s hiring among job postings on the Bulletin Board and more. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

What happens when a devastating flood comes to a place that probably qualifies as a news desert? How do the residents get essential information?

In the case of Transylvania County, in the mountains of southwestern North Carolina, it’s the residents themselves who bridge the gaps —  sharing news in informal networks, on social media and in human contact. It’s a process that illustrates the incredible power of community engagement, but can include some of the perils of sharing information outside the rigors of professional reporting.

When Tropical Storm Fred rolled through the mountains last Monday and Tuesday, media from outside Transylvania County, including WLOS television in Asheville, covered some of the disruptions there. But by Wednesday, most of them had moved on to places such as Haywood County, where the toll at last report was five dead and one person missing.

But while no one died in Transylvania, the flooding there was severe. The Transylvania Times in Brevard, the county’s only newspaper, which publishes print editions on Monday evenings and Thursday mornings, reported on the storm on its website, but its staff is small — one editor and three full-time reporters.

Kevin Smith“So the TV station sees us as a niche,” Kevin Smith, PIO of the Transylvania County Schools since 2014, told me Sunday. “The radio station (he referred to WSQL in Brevard) is under-resourced. The newspaper comes out twice a week … they’re looking to modernize and smooth out the path to getting good information out sooner, whether it’s through a mobile app or through more daily use of social media, but frankly, they don’t have the resources to be the go-to news source.

“There’s no better way to put it: People have had to step in and fill the gap.”

Read moreWhere the citizens fill the gaps

Diversifying Your Sources: Resources for NC journalists

Melba NewsomeIf you missed our Aug. 12 training session with Melba Newsome, “Diversifying Your Sources,” you haven’t lost the opportunity to gain from this meaty session and from Newsome’s insights on how to report more inclusively.

Dive in anytime to:

Also, please share these resources with others, and consider using them as a taking-off point for discussions in your own journalism work.

This session was presented as part of the ongoing NC Media Equity Project.

If you have questions or suggestions on this session or further training, please send them on to Shannan Bowen.


Conservatives, the media, and trust

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from August 19 for an update on the UNC Public Records Project, insights related to census reporting, news briefs about the news industry across the state, a list of who’s hiring among job postings on the Bulletin Board and more. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday. 

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

You probably know that Trusting News and the Center for Media Engagement partnered this year with 27 newsrooms, including Carolina Public Press, to learn more about how right-leaning Americans perceive local news, and how media can bridge a trust gap there.

Jordan WilkieThe newsrooms surveyed about 3,400 people. Designated newsroom staffers, including CPP’s Jordan Wilkie, did almost 100 follow-up interviews. The research, reported Monday, found that, yes, people on the political right believe journalists are biased against conservatives. Read the full report.

To better connect with those audiences, the report recommends that newsrooms:
  1. Build relationships with people who have conservative and right-leaning viewpoints in your community and listen to them.
  2. Include a variety of voices from people with conservative and right-leaning views in stories. Journalists should be cautious of using “conservative” or other terms as catch-all labels for people who may have very different beliefs.
  3. Consider diversity of political beliefs and backgrounds when hiring for the newsroom.
  4. Focus on story facts, not interpretation.
  5. Correct mistakes promptly to demonstrate trustworthiness.
  6. Don’t criticize only one side of an issue.

I asked Wilkie for his thoughts about the process. While he’s not as sanguine about the effort as its organizers are, he said he and his CPP colleagues want to keep working with Trusting News.

“While I found this initial report a bit underwhelming, it is a step in the right direction,” he told me, “and building on this work is how we get to more meaningful answers and analysis of how newsrooms can build trust across widely divergent audiences. That’s important for our bottom lines and for democracy.”

Read moreConservatives, the media, and trust

Census and redistricting: Help is here 

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from August 11, which includes a last call to sign up for our free, one-hour Diversifying Your Sources workshop on Aug. 12 via Zoom with Melba Newsome, details about open positions at the News & Observer, more job postings on the Bulletin Board and information about available research funding from The Knight Foundation and other opportunities. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday. 

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

On Thursday at 1 p.m., local data from the 2020 Census will be released, which means we’ll be able to start deeply analyzing, understanding and reporting how the demographics of our state and our communities have changed since 2010.

It also means the legislature can officially start drawing up the state’s 14 U.S. House districts (one more than we have now), 50 state Senate districts and 120 state House districts. Legislators this week are settling on the rules for doing that.

Lots of resources are available to help journalists cover the rollout of the population numbers and the redistricting process, or simply to help people understand it.

Read moreCensus and redistricting: Help is here 

The beginning of an era

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from August 4, which explains how Elon’s School of Communications‘ is starting a free initiative to inspire high school students to explore careers in journalism, how you can sign up to attend our free, one-hour Diversifying Your Sources workshop on Aug. 12 via Zoom with Melba Newsome and how to determine the best source for the latest COVID-19 news. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday. 

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

When The News Reporter hit the streets in Whiteville last Friday, the Thompson-High family had owned the paper for 83 years. On Tuesday, the masthead had a new name on top. But it’s still in the family, so to speak.

image of a newspaper front page
Justin Smith, who has been editor of The News Reporter since 2018, is now the owner and publisher.

Justin Smith, who has been editor of The News Reporter since 2018, is now the owner and publisher, having bought the 125-year-old Columbus County institution from siblings Les High and Stuart High Rogers and keeping it in local hands — something that Les High, who had been the publisher, calls “critical.”

The News Reporter, of course, is best known outside the region for winning the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1953 along with the Tabor City Tribune for their stalwart reporting on the Klan. That was 15 years after the paper was bought by High and Rogers’ grandfather, Leslie S. Thompson, who passed the publisher’s role to his son-in-law, Jim High, in 1959. Jim High’s son, Les, succeeded him, and Rogers has been the director of special projects. Their family just won the Tom and Pat Gish Award for Courage, Tenacity and Integrity in Rural Journalism, as I reported last week.

Les High this year founded the Border Belt Reporting Center and in May launched the Border Belt Independent with a grant from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. The Independent does in-depth coverage of key issues in Bladen, Columbus, Robeson and Scotland counties.

Read moreThe beginning of an era

Partners — with perks

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from July 28, which includes related reporting on the impact of rising U.S. Postal Service rates, updates about Sherry Chisenhall’s departure from The Charlotte Observer, the latest job postings and more. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday. 

Bag of The Chatham Brew Coffee
The Chatham Brew Coffee

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

“When we bought The Chatham News and The Chatham Record two and a half years ago,” publisher/editor Bill Horner III told me the other day, “the very first thing we did was to combine them to make it The Chatham News + Record. And that created some confusion. One of the things I heard was confusion about the new name … and the other thing I heard was, ‘I didn’t know Chatham County had a newspaper.’

“So obviously, you want to try to leverage anything you can to create brand awareness.

“And I’m not a coffee geek at all, but … Chatham County has a pretty cool coffee culture. A lot of neat, eclectic coffee shops. We did a really nice two-page photo essay and story about the coffee culture, and one of the things that I learned in that story was that Aromatic Roasters (in Pittsboro) was the only roaster of coffee in Chatham County. So, at that point the light bulb went off, and it took me about five seconds to connect the dots: ‘This is a place that we need to approach.’”

With support from one of his business partners, Kirk Bradley, who’s a coffee aficionado and an Aromatic Roasters fan, Horner reached out to Erin Munson, managing partner at Aromatic, and made the pitch for a co-branded breakfast blend, which was perfected after several experiments and taste tests.

Read morePartners — with perks

Join the UNC public records project

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from July 21, which includes related news about McClathcy’s promotion of Robyn Tomlin, details about the latest podcast episodes from North Carolina journalists, reporting from throughout the state and more. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday. 

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

Late last month, the NC Open Government Coalition at Elon, working with the NC Local News Workshop, launched a project to “educate the public about the inner workings of UNC’s public records system and to spur collaboration among journalists covering the state’s flagship university.” 

The Coalition began by joining with a group of journalists, professors, and nonprofit organizations to file eight initial requests with UNC for public records related to Nikole Hannah-Jones’ recruitment to UNC. UNC has responded in some fashion to three of those requests, and project leaders are “working through an impasse” on one of those, Coalition director Brooks Fuller told me Tuesday. You can see the requests and track their progress on the project page on MuckRock, which also has a link to view and download the responsive documents. 

Read moreJoin the UNC public records project