‘Well, you comin’ to the house, ain’t ya?’ A chat about ‘The Vote Collectors.’

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from Nov. 3 for more on this story and to learn about the nonprofit Diversity Pledge Institute, North Carolina health news, updates about journalists and news organizations throughout the state, the latest job opportunities and more. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

Charlotte journalists Michael Graff and Nick Ochsner
Charlotte journalists Michael Graff and Nick Ochsner

I had the privilege of talking with Charlotte journalists Michael Graff and Nick Ochsner about their new book The Vote Collectors: The True Story of the Scamsters, Politicians, and Preachers behind the Nation’s Greatest Electoral Fraud. It’s the story behind the voting corruption in Bladen County that invalidated the 9th District congressional election of 2018, and political operative McCrae Dowless, who was at the center of it all.

But the book goes much deeper — into the history of how race, voting rights and electioneering have intertwined for well more than a century there, and into the political dysfunction and real threats to democracy in the rural areas and small towns of the South.

Graff is the editor and newsletter author at Axios Charlotte. Ochsner is the chief investigative reporter at WBTV

The hardcover book drops on Nov. 16 (you can pre-order it here), but the e-book is already available (look for the “Buy This Book” box on this page). 

Here’s our conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Read more‘Well, you comin’ to the house, ain’t ya?’ A chat about ‘The Vote Collectors.’

The TIL edition

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from Oct. 27 for more on this story and to learn about a valuable redistricting resource, what’s new with journalists and news organizations throughout the state, explore the latest job opportunities and more. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

I think we all try to be just a little bit smarter, just a little bit better, at the end of each day than we were when it began. And we do that by learning.

Much of that happens in human interaction, but in our case, a lot also comes from the shared work and wisdom of North Carolina’s vibrant news and information community, along with a nationwide network of supporters, advocates, thought leaders and change agents. Some of it is practical — the stuff that helps us live our lives better, make smarter decisions. Some of it is more motivational — the stuff that helps us think and act for the greater good.

It can be a profound exercise to actually take stock of it all. So, today I learned: 

“In many cases, doctors and even practice managers don’t know the prices their offices’ charge” for a medical procedure.

That’s because there are so many variables, and the process isn’t very transparent. And the process is why one man got a bill for nearly $10,000 after getting a $1,500 quote for a colonoscopy. Michelle Crouch, for The Charlotte Ledger, offers one of the best overviews I’ve seen of how medical pricing works, and some great tips for navigating it.

Read moreThe TIL edition

A hire to boost WNC opportunities

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from Oct. 20 to see kudos for North Carolina journalists, check out recent news about the news industry, explore the latest job opportunities and more. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

By Shannan Bowen, Executive Director

Greetings, NC Local readers!

Shannan Bowen
Shannan Bowen

I’m writing today from our state’s beautiful mountains, where I’m visiting with journalists and community members in Asheville, the Qualla Boundary, Boone and areas in between. I’m here to listen to media leaders and communities about local news challenges and opportunities in their region. My visit is also timed with the announcement of an important effort to better understand our Western North Carolina communities, which I’m sharing with you today.

As I mentioned in a recent newsletter, the NC Local News Workshop will focus on community listening and engagement across our state so that we can create programs that help our news and information organizations continue to serve their communities as well as reach new and underserved communities. We’re starting this statewide effort by focusing first on North Carolina’s mountain region, comprising two dozen counties and many diverse communities. With support from the NC Local News Lab Fund and Dogwood Health Trust, we are hiring our first Research and Community Listening Fellow, who will lead efforts in communities of all types in this region—geographically and demographically—to understand residents’ needs for news and information, valued products and services, gaps in services, challenges in accessing information, topics of interest and news consumption habits, among many other insights.

Read moreA hire to boost WNC opportunities

A crisis in Blue Heaven

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from Oct. 13 for more on this story and to see accolades for journalists throughout the state, explore recent news about the news industry, discover the latest job opportunities and more. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

Screenshot of Twitter post about UNC Chapel HillAs I’m sure you know, there have been four suicide attempts, three ending in death, at UNC-Chapel Hill in five weeks. Two of those attempts came last weekend.

As on campuses everywhere, the usual pressures for young adults — a new environment, the stress of sudden independence and a lack of structure, the end of relationships, academic missteps, financial worries, changes in sleep and diet, substance challenges — have been compounded by a pandemic, remote learning, reckonings around race and identity, and more. There’s a mental health crisis in Blue Heaven.  

UNC canceled Tuesday classes and called for a wellness day. 

And the students on the staff of The Daily Tar Heel, in addition to living all of those stresses every day, have had to report on their sometimes tragic effects. On Sunday, the DTH announced it would operate on a reduced schedule this week “to allow our staff time to rest and to prioritize their mental health.”

For that very reason, I didn’t want to intrude — but I did reach out to Editor-In-Chief Praveena Somasundaram and General Manager Courtney Mitchell to express support, and I asked about the core principles in the DTH coverage of the human tragedies. I’m beyond grateful for the grace they showed me. Here’s what Somasundaram told me, by email:

Read moreA crisis in Blue Heaven

‘Climate change is a local story’

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from Oct. 6 for more on this story and also explore recent news about the news industry throughout the state, join us in recognizing North Carolina journalists, discover the latest job opportunities and more. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

David Boraks“I’m realizing that climate change stories are not separate,” David Boraks told me this week. “Everything is a climate story. Everything we do that affects the environment is a climate story.”

North Carolina newsrooms are also realizing that covering climate now means dedicating real resources to the task.

Boraks, at WFAE in Charlotte, is one of three reporters at legacy news organizations in North Carolina who now have a full-time climate beat funded by philanthropy. (There were none a year ago; there will be four soon when the Winston-Salem Journal hires one.)

Boraks was already reporting on environmental issues when he assumed the full-time climate beat this summer, funded by the Salamander and 1Earth funds. Adam Wagner reports on climate change and the environment for the state’s McClatchy newsrooms, financed by 1Earth Fund in partnership with Journalism Funding Partners. Gareth McGrath, based in Wilmington, covers the same topics for the Star News and the USA TODAY network in the state, in a position financed by ​​1Earth Fund and The Prentice Foundation. The Journal position, which will support all of the Lee newsrooms in the state, will be funded through an agreement with JFP, as I reported here last week. In each case, the newsrooms have full editorial control over the reporting.

Read more‘Climate change is a local story’

To explain redistricting: A sound idea

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from Sept. 29 for more on this story, to learn more about NC Local News Workshop happenings, to explore headlines about the new industry throughout the state, to join us in recognizing journalists from throughout the state and more. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

Blessed are the state political reporters, for North Carolina may soon actually have a two-year budget. Then comes an even bigger task for the legislature, one that could determine the outlines of state spending (and policy) for a decade to come: Redistricting.

Tyler Dukes
Tyler Dukes

It’s obviously a crucial process, but as WUNC Capitol bureau chief Jeff Tiberii said, it “remains pretty wonky.” The challenge for news providers is to explain it so people understand how it works, and all the ways it affects their lives.

One way is the spoken word.

That comes naturally to a radio reporter like Tiberii, but others around the state also are finding that audio storytelling can help folks decipher the process. One is investigative reporter Tyler Dukes at The News & Observer. Last week Dukes dropped the first episode of a special, scripted presentation of The N&O’s Under the Dome podcast, called Monster: Maps, Math & Power in North Carolina.

(The title is, of course, a reference to the Gerrymander, a mythical beast that was born in Massachusetts in 1812 but has spawned many generations of offspring with tar on their amphibian heels.)

Being a data guy, Dukes opens by painting a mental picture of a truly astronomical number. Then he walks us through some surprising history featuring several voices familiar and not, and illustrates how technology has changed the process through the eyes of a high school kid. A couple of minutes in, I was hooked.

Read moreTo explain redistricting: A sound idea

We’re listening…

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from Sept. 22 for more on this story, to learn about good news for Mountain Xpress in Asheville, to join us in recognizing student journalism throughout the state and more. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

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.

Read moreWe’re listening…

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

Categories DEI

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