NC Local newsletter: An election lesson in integrity, and some takes on how local media performed

By Eric Frederick, NC Local newsletter editor

They can have global consequences, but elections are local — and their integrity depends on the dedication of administrators, employees and volunteers, and the local journalists keeping an eye on the processes.

For those of us watching the watchers as county election boards canvassed and reported their results over the past few days, their work has been enlightening, and inspiring. And it isn’t over. The biggest thread yet to be tied — pun intended — is in the race to be the state’s chief justice, where a recount must be finished in the next week.

We’ve learned a lot more along the way. Nick Ochsner‘s reporting for WBTV has led to a State Board of Elections review of irregularities at an Anson County voting site. We’ve seen useful analysis, such as this scrutiny of notable shifts in sentiment around the state by Paul Woolverton and Brian Gordon in The Fayetteville Observer. And we saw a very human lesson in integrity, too:

Sara Knotts, like thousands of election administrators throughout the country, is extraordinarily devoted to her duty. But after her mother voted by mail and then died before Election Day, few have had their allegiance to democracy tested as emotionally as Knotts.

“I couldn’t even bring myself to start doing the briefings on the challenges and I couldn’t figure out why. Then I opened the folder, saw her name and realized I had been putting it off” —Danielle Battaglia of The News & Observer and Emily Featherston of WECT tell a story of love, loss and fidelity.

Speaking of what we’ve learned…

I asked two questions last week of a few folks who were involved in reporting the voting. A week ago I shared their thoughts on what the media should do now. This week, the second question: What should the NC media have done better? Here are their answers, edited for length:

Anoa Changa, attorney, electoral justice reporter for Prism, host of the podcast “The Way with Anoa” and host of Scalawag’s “As the South Votes” video series:

(Journalists should be) centering the needs and concerns of the communities (they) serve. Media can go a long way to debunking disinformation and helping to keep the electorate informed and engaged. I think NC media can just keep moving toward reclaiming space as the fourth estate and really prioritizing what’s good for democracy over everything else. 

Finally, having meaningful and representative coverage of the diverse groups and constituencies in NC is important. There has been some of this, but it can always be better.

Tazeen Dhanani, communications director, speaking for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice:

The media did a good job of setting expectations that results could take a while, not rushing to call anything and doing their best to explain the process of what was happening … 

Additionally, we are seeing a continued shift to people voting earlier and voting by mail – which the pandemic certainly influenced – especially in states like North Carolina. When it came to covering candidates and issues, a lot of news outlets still treated it like Election Day with candidate Q&As, specific issues, etc., running in the last few days before Nov. 3, but too late to really educate and inform the majority of voters. 

Cory Vaillancourt, reporter, Smoky Mountain News: 

The reporters I worked with all year long … went above and beyond the call of duty, literally putting themselves in the line of fire (virus, rubber bullets, right-wing anti-media conspiracy theorists) day after day…

It’s not about what North Carolina media should have done better — it’s about better support for independent media from the general public. Want more/better coverage? Support your local news media outlet. Want more misinformation, disinformation, foreign meddling, conspiracy theories, unfounded rumors and fear-mongering? Well, how’s that been working out for us all so far?

Lynn Bernstein, founder, Transparent Elections NC:

The news media should do more research into the public observation laws and ballot processing laws in North Carolina rather than just relying on county election directors. … 

As far as public observation goes, the election laws are really clear about this, but reporters did not let the public know what their rights were to observe…

“We’re still letting (politicians) set the terms of the narrative’ — Jordan Wilkie

Jordan Wilkie, elections integrity/open government reporter, Carolina Public Press:

We knew exactly what would happen post-election. We should have gotten our politicians on the record about understanding what would happen and when they’d have final answers, and had them tell us what they would do in such a situation.

 We did a terrible job of calling politicians out on lying, which they did with great frequency in their press releases. 

We also did a bad job of talking to our readers, understanding their needs and concerns, and bringing those directly to our politicians. We’re still letting (politicians) set the terms of the narrative, rather than allowing our readers to be the ones who set the news cycle and create the flow of information. 

Dawn B. Vaughan, government/politics reporter, The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun:

We have to cover the presidential candidate visits, but because there were so many of them, that took coverage time away from more issue-related and down-ballot races stories. Still, I think we all did a good job of making sure the best coverage of NC politics came from NC media.

Also in this week’s newsletter: good work from Mary C. Curtis, AVL Watchdog, Cardinal & Pine and The Daily Tar Heel, and a Q&A with WUNC’s Anita Rao. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

Three NC newsrooms offer election coverage to other outlets — and it’s free

The newly launched Votebeat, a pop-up newsroom covering election access and voting integrity in eight states, has placed two reporters at WFAE public radio in Charlotte and is making coverage available for free to other news outlets, joining a welcome trend that extends the impact of journalism and supplements local reporting.

North Carolina newsrooms The News & Observer and Carolina Public Press also are offering political and election coverage to other outlets at no charge (this has been an ongoing offer.) There are some conditions. Here’s more:

  • Votebeat, spearheaded by nonprofit education newsroom Chalkbeat (read more here), is making all of its NC coverage available to other outlets.
    • From Chad Lorenz, Votebeat project director: The easiest way to find the articles are the author pages for our two NC Votebeat reporters, Coleen Harry (https://www.wfae.org/people/coleen-harry) and Michael Falero (https://www.wfae.org/people/michael-falero).
    • All the project’s content is aggregated on the Votebeat.org homepage, and the North Carolina content is all clearly labeled.
    • The content is free for you to pick up and republish. Votebeat asks only that you follow simple republishing guidelines, which you can find here.
    • If you’d like to be notified via email when new stories are available, sign up via this Google Form or email Gabe Schneider, assistant managing editor.
  • The N&O’s Fact-Checking Project content is also available to other publishers at no cost, but they are required to use the original (“canonical”) URL in posting it on their content management system. If you have questions or need help with the URL requirement, email Jordan Schrader, state government and politics editor.
  • Carolina Public Press’ election coverage, like all of the nonprofit newsroom’s content, may be republished for free: Find the guidelines here.

Did we miss anything? Let us know.

Tips and sources for NC newsrooms covering election uncertainty

Some national stories are local everywhere, and the current political power struggle over the 2020 presidential election transition is one of them, sparking questions and conversation among our viewers and readers.

Local news outlets can bring the story home and help audiences navigate misinformation and disinformation on social media. They can host debate and local voices through discussion forums (radio talk shows, television interviews, newspaper letters to the editor or op-eds).

They also can share insights from nationally recognized experts (including NC-based scholars) on political information or disinformation (see the list below)

Here are a few resources for North Carolina newsrooms:

  • Joy Mayer and the nonprofit Trusting News project have a fresh list of tips to help newsrooms show people why their work can be trusted at this chaotic, confusing time in the presidential election process. “Have you heard members of your community say that “the media” is helping steal this election?” the Twitter thread begins.
  • Daniel Kreiss, a UNC assistant professor (listed below) and member of the Election Coverage and Democracy Network of scholars, shared this thread from the network today on how journalists can cover the story now.
  • First Draft News offers a US2020 Dashboard with live insights on what it calls “information disorder” (for instance, on interest in alternative social media platforms such as Perler) and a by-request Twitter feed from its team.

Local sources for reporting on disinformation and misinformation include these from the Center for Information, Technology, and Public Life (CITAP) at UNC-Chapel Hill:

  • Daniel Kreiss, Associate Professor, Hussman School of Journalism and Media: Media, platforms, electoral politics. Email dkreiss@email.unc.edu
  • Shannon McGregor, Assistant Professor, Hussman School of Journalism and Media: Social media, public opinion, political campaigns, platform content policy, shannonmcg@unc.edu
  • Francesca Tripodi, Assistant Professor, School of Information and Library Science: Media ecosystems, search and recommendation tools, ftripodi@email.unc.edu
  • Deen Freelon, Associate Professor, Hussman School of Journalism and Media: Coordinated disinformation campaigns, racially targeted disinformation, freelon@email.unc.edu

From the Elon University School of Communications:

Email msill@elon.edu with additions to this list.

Meet our advisory board: 26 local perspectives on NC’s news needs

The hometown feeling came through almost right away during the first meeting of the NC Local News Workshop’s new First-Year Advisory Board — 26 people from journalism, communications, education, libraries, history, public affairs, and more, who care about local news as a civic asset, in part because it matters to the places they hold dear.

Hope Mills. Durham. Wilmington. Northeastern NC. Many of our board’s members grew up in North Carolina, and their passion and concern about the loss of local reporting and its impact came through in their comments, even through our Zoom screens.

Hendersonville, southeastern NC, the Triad. As they introduced themselves, board members spoke passionately about the importance of strong local news, and the need for new thinking to sustain it.

Some focused on gaps in information for people whose dominant language is Spanish; others focused on a new generation of young people who don’t connect to hews in the same ways as their parents.

Our board, listed below and in more detail, includes not just accomplished journalists and news leaders, but also others who play key roles in supporting community information, truth-telling, and civic connection.

We’re honored to welcome this group as individual and collective wisdom for our efforts to build systemic support for high-quality local news in North Carolina.

First-Year Advisory Board 

Erica Allison, CEO/OWner, Formation PR + Brand, Hendersonville

Robert G. Anthony Jr., Curator of the North Carolina Collection and director of DigitalNC, UNC-Chapel Hill

Leslie Boney, NCSU Vice Provost for Outreach and Engagement and Director of the Institute for Emerging Issues

Vanessa Bravo, Chair and Associate professor of Strategic Communications, Elon University School of Communications

Paul Cuadros, Associate professor, UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and Chair and Executive Director of the Latino Scholars initiative

Seth Ervin, Chief Innovation Officer, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library

Lariza Garzôn, Executive Director, Episcopal Farmworker Ministry

Lizzy Hazeltine, Fund Coordinator, NC Local News Lab Fund (ex officio)

Cierra Hinton, Co-Director of Strategy and Operations, Press On; Executive Director/ Publisher, Scalawag

Deborah Holt-Noel, Host, UNC-TV’s Black issues Forum and NC Weekend

Tamara Jeffries, Associate professor and Chair of Journalism & Mass Media, Bennett College

Ju-Don Marshall, Chief Content Officer and Executive Vice President, WFAE

Fiona Morgan, Journalist, researcher, and consultant, Branchhead Consulting; former journalism director, Free Press

Philip Napoli, Professor of public policy and Associate Dean, Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University

Nick Ochsner, Investigative Executive Producer, WBTV

Orage Quarles III, Board Chairman, McClatchy Journalism Institute, Freedom Forum board member, retired longtime newspaper publisher

Fran Scarlett, Chief Knowledge Officer, Institute for Nonprofit News

Michael Schoenfeld, VP for Public Affairs and Government Relations, Chief Communication Officer, Duke University

Sarah Sloan, Producer and independent journalist, Working Narratives and Shoresides

Monique Smalls, Communications Director, LabCorp

David Squires, Journalism lecturer, NC A&T State University, contributing writer for ESPN’s The Undefeated

Pat Stith, retired Pulitzer-winning investigative journalist, The News & Observer

Ryan Thornburg, Associate professor, UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media

Robyn Tomlin, President and Editor, The N&O/Herald-Sun, Southeast Regional Editor, McClatchy

Keven Zepezauer, President, CEO and Publisher, Restoration News Media and The Wilson Times

Karin Zipf, Professor of history, East Carolina University

From NC Local: The right to know, takeaways from the Workshop’s public records training session

By Eric Frederick

NC Local newsletter editor
Obviously, reporting on public meetings has changed this year, with most of them going virtual. Journalists, as always, have faced issues getting public records, and data are even more crucial now to public health and safety. The challenges of reporting on police actions have been amplified, and we’re dealing with legislative secrecy.

The NC Local News Workshop and the NC Open Government Coalition at Elon, working with the NC Press Association, held a session Aug. 26 where journalists and experts shared what they’ve learned about getting public information in these times.

Panelists were communications lawyers Amanda Martin and Mike Tadych, and reporters Tyler Dukes of WRAL; Emily Featherston of WECT; Nick Ochsner of WBTV; Victoria Bouloubasis, a freelance investigative reporter who has been working with Enlace Latino NC; Kirk Ross of Carolina Public Press; and Lucille Sherman of The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun. [Watch the Zoom recording.]

Key takeaways:

Read moreFrom NC Local: The right to know, takeaways from the Workshop’s public records training session

Covering Voting for Voters: Register now to inform your local journalism

NC BOE site

North Carolina’s election season begins this Friday, Sept. 4, as the first absentee ballots in the nation start going out by mail. Get information and resources on how you’re covering the election process at a special convening on Zoom with elections officials and journalists, sponsored by the NC Local News Workshop, NC Open Government Coalition, and NC Press Association.

Register now for “Covering Voting for Voters,” scheduled for Sept. 9 from 9-10:30 a.m. Share your questions, and links to your own coverage so we can highlight it. Translation will be offered for participation by Spanish speakers.

Panelists include:

  • State Elections Director Karen Brinson Bell
    Karen Brinson Bell
    Derek Bowens
    Derek Bowens

    and Durham County Director Derek Bowens, who will outline what they think voters should know about the election process and what the public can expect.

  • Reporters including Jordan Wilkie from Carolina Public Press, Will Doran from The News & Observer, Paola Jaramillo of EnlaceLatinoNC, Wake Board of Elections member and Twitter election information provider Gerry Cohen, on what local journalists should be looking out for in their counties.
  • News organizations including Scalawag, The N&O, QCityMetro, and The Daily Tar Heel about building election coverage around community and voter needs.
  • John Hernandez from the American Press Institute and its Trusted Elections Network on resources for covering misinformation.

Send questions or comments to Melanie Sill, NC Local News Workshop executive director.

Meanwhile, catch up via Zoom recording on two recent events focused on public records and covering COVID-19 for Spanish speakers: Check our events page for those links.

Cobertura de noticias en español en Carolina del Norte se expande durante la pandemia y revela brechas

Medios de comunicación en inglés y español junto con líderes de la comunidad comparten lecciones y desafíos al producir periodismo para, por y sobre hispanohablantes en Carolina del Norte, donde la pandemia pegó temprano y duro.

Por Marco Quiroz-Gutierrez

Durante los últimos años, Paola Jaramillo y Walter Gómez han construido su sitio digital de noticias en español, Enlace Latino NC, y con la llegada de COVID-19, sabían que para servir a su publico, necesitaban hacer más que solo reportar las noticias.

Enlace Latino, con sede en el Triangle, está interactuando con los latinos durante la pandemia yendo más allá de reportar para averiguar lo que quiere saber su público. El grupo de WhatsApp de Enlace, en donde los fundadores escuchan y interactúan con su audiencia, ha crecido a 800 personas, de las 50 que tenía cuando recién empezó.

Jaramillo y Gómez fueron parte de los más de 30 representantes de los medios en inglés y español, junto con líderes de organizaciones que apoyan a la comunidad latina, que asistieron a la primera conferencia de NC Local News Workshop, ¿Qué estamos aprendiendo al cubrir COVID-19 para los hispanohablantes en Carolina del Norte?”

Los asistentes discutieron sobre lo que falta en la cobertura de COVID-19 para los latinos y cómo información sobre la pandemia debería ser diseminada a está población que tiene el porcentaje más alto de casos de COVID-19 en Carolina del Norte. Muchos reportaron esfuerzos adicionales para distribuir información, y obstáculos que complicaban esos esfuerzos — incluyendo encontrar dinero para fundar su periodismo.

Read moreCobertura de noticias en español en Carolina del Norte se expande durante la pandemia y revela brechas

NC Spanish-language news coverage expands amid COVID-19, and reveals gaps

Latino and English-language media and community leaders share lessons and challenges in producing journalism by, for, and about Spanish-speaking NC, where the pandemic hit early and hard

By Marco Quiroz-Gutierrez

Paola Jaramillo and Walter Gómez have spent several years building the digital Spanish-language news site Enlace Latino NC, and when COVID-19 hit, they knew they needed to do more than just report stories to serve their audience.

Enlace Latino, based in the Triangle, is engaging Latinos during the pandemic by going beyond reporting to learn what its audience wants to know about. Enlace’s WhatsApp group, where the founders listen and interact with their audience, has grown to 800 people from 50 when it first launched.

Jaramillo and Gómez were among more than 30 representatives from the English and Spanish-language media, along with leaders of organizations serving Latiino residents, who attended the NC Local News Workshop’s first knowledge-sharing gathering, held Aug. 5 via Zoom: “What are we learning from covering COVID-19 for NC’s Spanish speakers?”

The attendees discussed what is missing from COVID-19 coverage for and about Latino residents, and how information about the pandemic should be disseminated to this group, which has the highest portion of COVID-19 cases in North Carolina. Many reported extra efforts to deliver information, and big challenges in doing so — including finding funding to pay for reporting.

Read moreNC Spanish-language news coverage expands amid COVID-19, and reveals gaps

Intern Corps delivered a raft of NC stories and a tryout of pooled local reporting

 

Anton L. Delgado covered a Charlotte protest in June for the NC Local News Intern Corps. Photograph by Grace Terry.

The NC Local News Intern Corps, an idea prompted by the COVID-19 crisis, came together in May and delivered its first stories in early June from a summer newsroom of four reporting interns and a supervising editor. Over the weekend, after the group’s final day, intern Anton L. Delgado delivered an update on Twitter about the team’s impact:

 

Those numbers kept growing this week, and answered one of the questions we had for the Intern Corps: Would newsrooms be able to use stories from a pool?

The answer was yes, with more than 50 editors on our email list by the program’s end: many stories reached a variety of audiences, from mainstream newspapers to Black and Latinx digital media outlets, and some continued getting picked up in the weeks after initial posting.

Now, we’re doing more assessment: surveying editors, talking with the interns, and measuring impact: What does this program show us in terms of the NC Local News Workshop’s goals for strengthening local news?

This wasn’t just an intern program, but also the first initiative of the Workshop, which launched this year as a response to major disruption in local news — the dramatic loss of local journalists in North Carolina and elsewhere, and the opportunities for new approaches to helping people know what’s happening in their own state and communities.

Read moreIntern Corps delivered a raft of NC stories and a tryout of pooled local reporting

New event Aug. 5: COVID-19 coverage in Spanish, share and learn

North Carolina news organizations have ramped up coverage, tried new platforms, teamed up with new partners, and used grant funding for new projects to report for and about Spanish-speaking people on the COVID-19 crisis, which has hit Latinx people harder than other groups.

On Aug 5 from 9-11 a.m., the NC Local News Workshop will convene a knowledge-sharing session to learn what people are trying, what’s working, and where we see more needs and opportunities for serving NC’s Spanish-speaking consumers.

The bilingual session invites participants who are delivering content in Spanish, others who seek to build their service and audiences, and community members who see gaps or opportunities for improving the quality and access to information.

The Zoom event is free, but requires registration. Click this link to register: “What are we learning from covering COVID-19 for Spanish-speaking NC?” 

Registrants so far include established and startup Spanish-language outlets, such as La Noticia, Enlace Latino NC, and others, and journalists from Blue Ridge Public Radio, WFDD, The News & Observer/Herald-Sun, Carolina Public Press, and other outlets, along with conversation about gaps and how to build on what’s working. The session will be moderated by Vanessa Bravo, associate professor and chair of Elon Communications’ strategic communications department, and will include translation services.

The gathering is part of a new event series from the NC Local News Workshop, which launched in June at Elon’s School of Communications to act as a support base and resource center for local news in North Carolina. The series, called “What are we learning?” aims to help people facing common challenges and opportunities come together to trade notes, share knowledge, make connections, and highlight needs and opportunities.

Next up, Aug. 26, noon, via Zoom: “What are we learning from 2020’s big stories about public records and access?” The Workshop will team up with the NC Open Government Coalition, also based at Elon, for a session capturing lessons from public records challenges involving COVID-19 data, and considering issues related to coverage of protests and policing.

Email me (Melanie Sill) if you have questions or suggestions, and watch this space for upcoming programs.