No good thing ever dies. Does it?

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from November 30 for more from the Workshop, including industry news, job postings and shout-outs to journalists statewide. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

Tommy Tomlinson and Daniel Kreiss made me redo this week’s newsletter at the last minute — Tomlinson, by writing something characteristically smart, and Kreiss, by …

You know what? I still don’t even know what Kreiss did. (And neither does he.)*

Indulge me; blame them. 

In the spring of 2020, when I finally slipped behind the Raquel poster and slid out of the Facebook sewer pipe, after 14 long years on the inside, I scribbled a note to my friends, telling them where they could always find me: over on Twitter.

Some were puzzled. “What’s the difference?” one asked.

Read moreNo good thing ever dies. Does it?

Collaboration and connection drive news needs in Western NC

By Fiona Morgan,

Consultant to the Workshop

 

Collaboration and connection were the major themes in a conversation about local news and information held just before Thanksgiving on the campus of Western Carolina University in a rural, mountainous part of North Carolina.

About 40 people attended the event, held Nov. 17 at WCU’s Hinds University Center. People came from the towns of Cullowhee and Sylva, from Haywood County, and from as far as Asheville. Many participants noted that working together is a part of Western North Carolina culture, a way of turning limited resources into abundance.

The forum itself was a collaboration between the NC Local News Workshop, Carolina Public Press, Blue Ridge Public Radio and the WNC Health Network. Our goal was to hear from residents of Western NC about the news and information they want to see, and to give them an opportunity to speak directly to journalists from local media organizations. It was also part of the Workshop’s major ongoing project in Western NC to understand the news and information needs of various communities in the region.

Most of the event was devoted to small-group discussions in which community members sat beside journalists and shared ideas, questions, concerns and hopes for their communities–and thoughts about how storytelling and fact-sharing can help strengthen those communities. 

The desire for more positive coverage, in contrast to the conventional crime- and disaster-driven news cycle, is a theme in practically every community listening gathering about local news. So we delved into the how and what of those stories. Insights and ideas abounded.

We heard a desire for stories about “unknown heroes” in the community, stories that embrace the complexity and diversity of Appalachian history and culture, that highlights Black creativity and entrepreneurship, and reporting that gives local residents a chance to influence public decisions and to hold local government and organizations accountable.

“We can get paralyzed by the size of problems, but to see someone working on a solution is inspiring and helps us feel less helpless,” one participant commented. 

 

A positive approach

As people entered the room, they were invited to share responses to the question, “How do you get local news and information?” Word-of-mouth, radio, and Facebook were popular ways of finding out what’s happening. As for what people most wanted reporting on, the standout answers were “What people and organizations are up to,” “solutions to local problems,” “racial justice,” and “information about public decisions before they happen.” (Shoutout to the Listening Post Collective for inspiring this activity–check out their playbook for civic media.)

Throughout the event, graphic facilitator Caryn Brownelle Hanna took visual notes of the conversation on a large paper canvas, producing a record the Workshop will share with participants.

After a greeting from WCU external relations director Christy Agner, who read the university’s land acknowledgement honoring the Cherokee land and history, Lily Wright, of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, opened the conversation by sharing her perspective as a member of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians. Wright previously helped to lead a recent forum on the Qualla Boundary for the NC Local News Workshop. 

Working to preserve Indigenous language and culture has made her passionate about the need for positive coverage of people of color. “News outlets don’t need to show a two-sided story,” she told those of us gathered in Cullowhee. To truly showcase diverse points of view, “be four-sided, six-sided, 10-sided.”

Shelby Harris, a reporter for Carolina Public Press, talked about her reporting on how North Carolina plans to spend $5.4 billion of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, particularly in the western part of the state, and how some of that spending will increase broadband access for hundreds of thousands of NC residents. 

 

Themes in common

Small groups of five or six people discussed questions like, “What’s great about your community that you wish the media would report on?” and, “What solutions are people in your community exploring that you’d like to report on?”

Participants used Post-It notes to record thoughts and ideas. By grouping those notes, we could see themes emerge:

Housing, health and food access were the biggest topics that arose, with an emphasis on how those needs are intertwined. Participants had stories of grassroots responses to those community needs, such as a farmworker who makes sure his neighbors have enough to eat.

Pride in Appalachian culture, in all its diversity, was a major theme, emphasizing the common histories among Cherokee and African American residents. For newcomers to the region from Mexico and Central America, language access was a key concern. We discussed the need for news and other forms of information in Spanish.

Some urged reporters to consistently center community voices: 

  • “When an issue comes up, include the voices of those affected.”
  • “Undercovered communities [should be] part of regular news coverage.”

There were calls to cover elders and aging in a more “positive light,” and to consider that approximately one third of the population of seven counties in the region are over the age of 60. Likewise, there was a desire for coverage of youth in the region, particularly opportunities for young people and youth initiatives among the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians.

Racial justice was a strong theme, particularly with regard to accountability coverage of local governments and organizations, “making it clear we’re putting pressure on you.” 

“It’s important to talk to each other and get news involved to spread [information] further than our inner circles,” one participant said. 

 

Voices from the public health community

Public health perspectives were a key part of the evening, thanks to the partnership of WNC Health Network. In between rounds of small-group conversation, we heard from community leaders in that field. 

Dionne Greelee-Jones described how her organization, Impact Health, had only recently been created to implement the Health Opportunities Pilot program across 18 Western NC counties and the Qualla Boundary. She said sharing information is critical, because lack of awareness about opportunities and available resources is a big challenge – a challenge she intends to surmount through collaboration. “Impact Health is new,” she said, “But we look at this as legacy work. We have roots here in WNC, and there is too much brain power in our space to fail.”

Collaboration is also vital for Norma Brown’s work with UNETE, the organization she founded to promote health equity. Her organization works across five counties through more than 70 collaborations. “Support your community health workers because they are definitely the answer to many of the challenges we are trying to solve here,” Brown said. 

Marianne Martinez shared the news that her organization, Vecinos, will soon be opening a wrap-around community health clinic on the WCU campus to serve uninsured farmworkers. And Radonna Crowe, who works in public health and human services for the EBCI described the ways her tribe has navigated COVID and shared public health information since the pandemic began.

 

News and information leaders reflect

After the event, Adrienne Ammerman of WNC Health Network reflected on the discussion. In 2019, her group formed a collaborative of collective impact health communicators from public health agencies, hospitals, and community-based partners across the 18 western counties and the Qualla Boundary.

“We felt it was important to have representatives from our community health improvement and health communications work in the region at the table with journalists and other community members, because we have a shared goal of ensuring that western North Carolinians have a voice in and access to credible information that they need, and that reflects the diversity, assets, and challenges of their communities,” Ammerman said. “It was a beautiful evening of relationship-building that will help enrich the information landscape of our mountain region.”

Lilly Knoepp is Blue Ridge Public Radio’s first full-time regional reporter based in Sylva. She explained that BPR recognized the need to report on the region west of Asheville. During the event, she and content director Catherine Komp highlighted the partnership between local media and other groups as central to that goal. 

“Collaborative journalism is important for the future of local journalism in this region,” Knoepp said. 

Angie Newsome, founder of Carolina Public Press described her organization’s mission as a statewide nonprofit news organization, and its roots in Western North Carolina. She urged community members to support independent, non-commercial journalism.

The Workshop is continuing its research and community listening across WNC. Our researcher, Brenda Murphree, has shared initial insights from her research on information needs so far, and she has invited participants to take and share her survey as the research phase comes to a close. Findings are coming soon, and will be shared in 2023 as a resource for local news media and community members.

Communities deserve equitable newsrooms. Here’s how some are leading the way.

By Gabriela Rivas-De Leon,

NC Local News Workshop Intern

 

I was recently navigating newsroom directories and noticed new titles that haven’t been commonplace over the past several years, especially here in North Carolina. You’ve still got your traditional beat reporters — politics, environment, education. But there are some new roles that have much more nuanced titles; positions like equity reporters or community engagement editors are more than ever surfacing in newsrooms around North Carolina.

Though the noble hope is that reporters have always had an unprejudiced and nondiscriminatory lens, we know that not to be the case. As editor Lisa Vernon Sparks, the Race, Culture & Community Engagement Editor at the Charlotte Observer, said, the rise in journalist jobs focusing on equity, diversity and inclusion is less about improving an already perfect industry, and more about starting to level the playing field.

A journalist of 20 years, Vernon Sparks talked with me at length about how she has seen Black and brown communities disregarded or disenfranchised by newsrooms. The newsroom she works for is a for-profit business that she said often has been run by an overwhelmingly white majority whose chief job has been catering to the (white) majority’s interest. Historically, communities of color have had “parachute” coverage, meaning that journalists would only cover tragedies or unrest, rarely going beneath the surface to see what systemic forces were at play. 

“About five years ago, you started hearing about reporters or editors talking about intersections, like ‘I covered the intersection of race and housing, or I covered the intersection of race, politics and religion.’ The reporting is now about how these fault lines intersect with each other, and what kind of stories we can get out of them,” she said. 

Vernon Sparks recommended some resources that work solely to help newsrooms navigate how to produce community-driven, accountable journalism that is aware of its past biases and uplifts rather than excludes. The American Press Institute launched the Source Matters tool, which focuses on tracking and improving the diversity of sources in a news story, and also manages Better News, which provides holistic guides to create sustainable newsrooms. The Maynard Institute, whose chief mission is to promote diversity and institutionalize equitable coverage, hiring and business practices, hosts Newsroom Transformations and Diversity Trainings. 

The first-ever Director of Careers and Culture at the Marshall Project, Emma Carew Grovum, demonstrates that changing the journalistic culture from the inside out is just as profitable for newsrooms as it is for the communities they serve. 

An inclusive work culture and environment should be as commonplace as the coffee pot in the break room, and Carew Grovum’s chief piece of advice was to take it back to the basics. 

“Treat people like humans. Remember that you are human, and that so are your teammates, sources, and audience members. Too many journalists and newsroom leaders have contributed to a culture where we give passes for treating people like tasks,” she said. 

An incredibly important part of creating an inclusive work environment is acknowledging but not relying solely on journalists of color. As Carew Grovum said, an equitable newsroom is one where journalists from all backgrounds can show up as their authentic selves, without having to box part of their identity away. She also wrote in an article for Source that allyship comes in many forms—as easy as posting jobs on Facebook Groups or killing the concept of one-time-only diversity and inclusion training. The process of equitable newsrooms starts at the personal level, and as Carew Grovum pointed out, it starts with creating a space where journalists from historically marginalized backgrounds get past simply surviving this industry and have the opportunity to thrive. 

Several other newsrooms in NC have identified the need for reporters focusing on race and equity in their communities as one major step toward representing the communities they seek to serve. WFAE, Charlotte’s NPR news source, has a content strategy devoted to race and equity coverage. This includes their EQUALibrium series, for example, which explores race and equity issues in the city. ABC11, based in the Triangle, also focuses on race and equity as a coverage area and has hired reporters to focus on this reporting.

For EducationNC, a nonprofit provider of news, data, analysis and research on public education, reporter Rupen Fofaria brings race and equity topics to the center of education coverage in NC. He has recently written articles about challenges that teachers of color face, the school accountability model, a profile of someone whose life was changed from a community college program, and much more.

“The message I would give to any organization that’s interested in equity work is focusing on how equity, vision and statements can translate into action,” he said. 

At EducationNC each article is audited to see whether it targets or includes under-reported issues through such lenses as socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation and immigration status. The EdNC team keeps a close look at how content is posted, making sure that the language and photos used in social media narratives align with their values. They’ve implemented an equity audit process that feels in tune with their newsroom, and will help them create products to better serve North Carolina. 

ABC11, EducationNC and WFAE were participants in the NC Local News Workshop’s Media Equity Project and have expressed their dedication to ensuring more equitable reporting practices. How is your newsroom covering race and equity? Send us a note at NCLocal@elon.edu so we can continue the conversation.

Challenge to North Carolina: A conversation with Liz Robbins on immigration reporting

A image of a Define America publication cover

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from November 9 for more from the Workshop, including industry news, job postings and shout-outs to journalists statewide. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

We in North Carolina’s news and information community are getting our closeup with Define American’s new journalism research report, “Reimagining Immigration News: North Carolina’s Case for the Nation.” We also have a gauntlet at our feet.

Liz Robbins, Define American’s director of journalism partnerships and the report’s lead author, wrote for Poynter on October 27 about why North Carolina was the focus of this research and analysis of how we cover immigration news. She cited our state’s fast-growing, diverse and vibrant immigrant communities; its deficiencies in reporting on them but with some notable exceptions, particularly in bilingual collaborations; and its varied application of immigration law. (“It’s a complex place.”)

Two days later she moderated a panel at the Society of Professional Journalists in Washington with three North Carolina journalists who are answering the challenge: Victoria Bouloubasis, award-winning freelance journalist and co-author of the report; Paola Jaramillo, executive editor and co-founder of Enlace Latino NC; and Daniel Viotto, lead anchor and managing editor of Telemundo Charlotte.

You should download and read the report in detail, but some of the key takeaways were these: 

  • Immigration is usually considered an expendable beat.
  • Coverage focuses on Latinx communities and largely ignores AAPI residents.
  • The reporting often reinforces stereotypes.
  • Skimping on coverage of immigrant communities is not good business.

The report offers seven recommendations at the end (and most of them don’t require money — just smart changes in priority and approaches).

In an email exchange, Liz talked a little more with me about what’s working, what’s not, and what’s next:

EF: Are you still glad you chose North Carolina as your model?

LR: Absolutely! What a vibrant news ecosystem. Even though we found deficiencies in immigration coverage, we also wanted to uplift what some legacy and nonprofit outlets are doing well to center immigrant communities. We conclude with seven recommendations for newsroom leaders in every state.

Read moreChallenge to North Carolina: A conversation with Liz Robbins on immigration reporting

Let’s brag about NC’s news ecosystem for a moment…

But note that there’s still a lot of work to do

Check out the full NC Local newsletter for more from the Workshop, including industry news, job postings and shout-outs to journalists statewide. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

By Shannan Bowen, executive editor, NC Local News Workshop

Last week, while attending the Independent News Sustainability Summit in Austin, I was struck by how many times someone mentioned North Carolina’s news and information ecosystem with admiration. When I introduced myself to new people or connected with old friends, I would hear them say something like:

  • I keep hearing so much about North Carolina!
  • You all have so much going on in NC.
  • I’m inspired by the work coming out of NC!
  • Wasn’t I just hearing about an interesting North Carolina news initiative recently?

And it’s true. We have a lot of great things in the works. I might be biased — OK, totally biased — but I’m going to take a moment to brag on all that’s going on in our state.

Read moreLet’s brag about NC’s news ecosystem for a moment…

The two-minute drill

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from October 26 for more from the Workshop, including industry news, job postings and shout-outs to journalists statewide. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

Time to go into your hurry-up offense. There’s a lot to do in the next 13 days.

That’s a slightly ironic metaphor, because of course, elections absolutely are not games. They’re the most important exercise of our rights in a free society, and the participants need solid information to inform their decisions, not political handicapping, rankings and predictions.

I asked several smart people for their advice on what folks in the news media in North Carolina need to be doing in the days remaining before voting ends November 8:

Melanie Sill, longtime journalist, founder of this newsletter and founding executive director of the NC Local News Workshop:

Coverage matters, and many people are just tuning in. Make it easy for them to get up to speed and offer help for those who have heard mostly partisan messaging as well as those who might not know beyond a couple of races.

Read moreThe two-minute drill

NC Local News Lab Fund gets $1M gift

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from October 19 for more from the Workshop, including industry news, job postings and shout-outs to journalists statewide. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

Here’s a big boost for our news and information ecosystem:

The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust has given $1.05 million to the North Carolina Local News Lab Fund. It’s the biggest gift ever to the Fund, which will send most of that money out in grants and use the rest to “reinforce our (operating) capacity,” Director Lizzy Hazeltine told me this week.

Since 2017, the Fund, backed by funders including the Kate B. Reynolds trust, has awarded more than $2.4 million in grants to what it calls “trusted messengers” — news and information providers and networks that build trust and connections in communities and “provide accurate, reliable news … despite having been historically excluded from traditional philanthropy due to racial and systemic inequities,” the gift announcement says.

Read moreNC Local News Lab Fund gets $1M gift

The law on your side

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from October 12 for more from the Workshop, including industry news, job postings and shout-outs to journalists statewide. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

Author’s note: Special thanks to Amanda Martin, general counsel to the North Carolina Press Association; Sarah Ludington, clinical professor of law and director of the First Amendment Clinic at Duke; and Christina Piaia, of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, for their help with this report.

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

Journalism in the public interest has become more challenging in the past few years for several reasons. The two main ones: Cash-strapped newsrooms often can’t afford the legal help they need to do meaningful investigative and accountability reporting, and a culture of government secrecy is growing.

Fortunately, there’s help on both fronts. With the expansion this fall of the Protecting Journalists Pro Bono Program (ProJourn), administered by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, there are four main ways for journalists and newsrooms in North Carolina to get pro bono legal assistance: 

Read moreThe law on your side

Conversation with a news leader: Paola Jaramillo of Enlace Latino NC

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from October 5 for more from the Workshop, including industry news, job postings and shout-outs to journalists statewide. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

By Gabriela Rivas-De Leon, NC Local News Workshop Intern

Happy Hispanic Heritage Month! Hispanics are one of the fastest-growing populations within the United States, and about 1 million North Carolina residents identify as Hispanic and/or Latinx. However, few news organizations around the state directly serve the Hispanic community with stories and resources.

Enlace Latino NC, founded in 2018, is the first Spanish digital-only media organization in North Carolina. Founded to close the information gap in the Latinx community, it boasts a website, a podcast, a radio show, and four newsletters that target the different rural and urban Spanish-speaking communities within the state.

During my discussion with Paola Jaramillo, the executive director and founder of Enlace Latino, she stressed the importance of collaboration with other news organizations around the state. Not only does collaboration boost awareness of Enlace, partnerships normalize accessibility for those who are non-white or multiracial.

Read moreConversation with a news leader: Paola Jaramillo of Enlace Latino NC

Tips for community listening

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from September 28 for more from the Workshop, including industry news, job postings and shout-outs to journalists statewide. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

When Shannan Bowen became executive director of the North Carolina Local News Workshop last year, her top priority was a listening project — to learn how communities, especially underserved ones, get (or don’t get) the news and information they need. The findings would then help news providers change, collaborate and innovate to engage and serve those communities better.

The pilot for that initiative is the Western North Carolina Research and Community Listening Project. With a grant from the NC Local News Lab Fund, the Workshop in February hired Asheville marketing strategist and researcher Brenda Murphree as a listening fellow to conduct that yearlong initiative in 19 mountainous counties, using a survey, one-on-one interviews and focus groups to assess the needs, find the gaps, and look for ways to fill them.

Read moreTips for community listening