Deepening relationships across the state

This post is a part of a series of reflections and perspectives about local news and information strategies for 2023 that will help achieve a shared vision for our state’s ecosystem. Read more about the shared vision and collection of perspectives here.

By Kate Sheppard

Managing editor, The Assembly

At The Assembly, we are looking to build and deepen relationships in 2023 — with journalists, with other outlets, and in specific parts of the state.

We expect to add several reporters to our team next year who will be digging in on key issues of power and place, with a focus on how we can partner with and enhance the statewide news ecosystem.

We think a cooperative mindset can help us be bigger than the sum of our parts as journalists covering this state. 

Continued focus on rural news deserts

This post is part of a series of reflections and perspectives about local news and information strategies for 2023 that will help achieve a shared vision for our state’s ecosystem. Read more about the shared vision and collection of perspectives here.

By Les High

Publisher, The Border Belt Independent

There should be continued focus on rural news deserts in 2023. Many rural counties are served by one-person newspaper staffs, if they even have a local paper. Social media posts or blogs often fill the vacuum with hateful, malicious disinformation. Regional, nonprofit newsrooms that focus on counties with similar demographics and challenges are a possible solution.

This is dreaming big, but what if we could fund a series of interconnected regional, nonprofit newsrooms across rural North Carolina that focus on issues? Added to this could be a powerhouse co-op that provides extensive coverage of state government and the legislature, shareable to everyone.

Remember the days when competition among newspapers was bloodsport? Fortunately, that’s changing and we’re stronger because of it.

Another point worth mentioning: overwhelmingly, what we’re hearing at listening sessions, advisory council meetings and civic club visits is that people want to hear more stories of joy and successes. People have always said that, but it seems to be something our communities need at this moment in time.

Student journalists are an important piece of the puzzle

This post is part of a series of reflections and perspectives about local news and information strategies for 2023 that will help achieve a shared vision for our state’s ecosystem. Read more about the shared vision and collection of perspectives here.

By Alison Jones

Managing editor, 9th Street Journal 

As news deserts and shrinking newsrooms continue to plague much of North Carolina, partnerships between local news outlets and colleges and universities represent a tremendous opportunity — particularly given N.C.’s strong tradition of excellent colleges and universities. 

Here at Duke University’s DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy, we’re bridging the worlds of higher education and local journalism with The 9th Street Journal, a publication about Durham written by Duke journalism students. 

Our journalism students serve as local reporters covering Durham (and occasionally, state politics). They attend school board meetings, profile candidates, write feature stories, etc. The students’ work is then edited by professional journalists on the faculty here at DeWitt Wallace. 

The student stories appear on our 9th Street website. And they reach a broader audience through our partnership with Indy Week, the local alternative weekly that regularly features 9th Street stories online and in print. By offering free, high-quality content to a local publication, our students contribute directly to local news coverage in a way that supports local media. 

Student journalists are just one piece of the local news puzzle. But they’re an important one. At The 9th Street Journal, we plan to continue to explore how students can contribute meaningful news content that benefits local readers. I’d be happy to speak with others who’d like to hear more about what we’re learning. 

Strategizing for Local News in 2023 

By Shannan Bowen,
Executive Director, NC Local News Workshop

In March, just after our 2022 News & Information Summit, the NC Local News Workshop and the NC Local News Lab Fund brought together dozens of people working in NC’s news and information ecosystem to discuss what a shared vision could look like for our state. We started with a draft vision: “Everyone in NC can find, trust and use high-quality news and information, delivered by organizations that can sustain themselves financially and operationally.” The attendees of our virtual brainstorm session discussed both challenges and opportunities in our statewide ecosystem, and how a shared vision could bring us all together to face them.

As we close the year and move into 2023, we want to focus on strategies for our shared vision. What can each of us accomplish in 2023 to work toward this shared vision? We asked for responses to this question from the talented, dedicated people working everyday to provide news and information to communities across our state. We’re featuring a selection of these perspectives through the new year, and we invite you to send in your own

Read the perspectives (this list is continuously updated):

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?

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 so we can continue the conversation.

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