NC Local for Jan. 13: Covering the current crisis: Local journalism’s role, + resources

By Eric Frederick, NC Local newsletter editor

[Also in the Jan. 13 edition: A campaign to save the historic Wilmington Journal, and shoutouts for a dozen recent examples of strong NC journalism. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox each week]

The insurrection a week ago at the Capitol was yet another call to duty for North Carolina’s local news and information providers. Obviously, stories just don’t get much more important than this one — and it has hundreds of local tendrils.

People are anxious. They need reliable information on what’s happening. And there’s a very good chance that there’s more unrest to come — and closer to home.

I consulted a lot of smart folks over the past few days and pulled together a few tips, plus some good work and some things to think about:

Ways to build trust

‘While we don’t know what the next few days and weeks will entail, we know this is far from over. And as journalists, it’s an important moment for us to convey credibility.’

Mollie Muchna, for Trusting News, offers several useful guidelines for keeping faith with readers while covering civil unrest. The key points:

Read moreNC Local for Jan. 13: Covering the current crisis: Local journalism’s role, + resources

Miss the Summit? Watch the video for speakers and breakout highlights

We’ve posted the video of the opening two-hour session of the NC Local News Summit, a virtual event on Wednesday that drew about 150 people together via Zoom.

The video features our speakers (in order of appearance), and reports back from each of the breakout sessions.

  • “The NC Local News Workshop and the Power of Many” — Melanie Sill, interim executive director, NC Local News Workshop
  • “The Power of Diverse Collaborations” — Ju-Don Marshall, WFAE chief content officer and executive vice president
  • What we’re learning about nonprofit news success — Fran Scarlett, Institute for Nonprofit News chief knowledge officer and business strategy coach, in conversation with Melanie Sill
  • “Local News and Local News Research (including the growth of partisan ‘pink slime’ sites”) — Philip Napoli, Duke Sanford School of Public Policy professor and journalism researcher, with research assistant Asa Royal
  • Local news philanthropy: “Renewed Urgency and Glimmers of Hope,” Lizzy Hazeltine, fund coordinator for the NC Local News Lab Fund
  • “Abolishing the Fourth Estate: What’s possible when we remember we are members of our communities” — Cierra Hinton, co-director of strategy and operations for Press On, publisher and executive director, Scalawag magazine
  • “Transforming the Community Newspaper” — Les High, publisher of the Whiteville News Reporter
  • “A New Push on Local News Entrepreneurship ” — Anika Anand, deputy director of LION Publishers, in conversation with Melanie Sill

Also, Cierra Hinton of Press On Media and Scalawag has turned her Summit talk into a piece for Scalawag. In the piece, Hinton describes a “disconnect between the press, the people, the news, and the communities we report on” and argues that journalists “need to cover people-power like it is the power that drives our democracy—because it is.”

In the context of political violence in Washington, she writes: “When we fail to name whiteness in our reporting we are at best complicit in the active practice of white supremacy, and at worst, we are upholding the spread of values that lead to events like those that took place.”

Check back next week for more materials and takeaways from the NC Local News Summit.

NC Local News Summit countdown: A great time for talking about trust, and have you picked your breakout session?

Trust signpost

This past week’s news of a mob storming the U.S. Capitol, partly because of mistaken beliefs about the presidential election, highlighted one of journalism’s greatest challenges: How can you inform people who don’t trust facts and are hostile toward media?

Local news outlets usually get higher trust marks than “media” in general, but are feeling the effects of distrust even as they try to enlist audiences and communities as engaged members, paying subscribers, and philanthropic supporters. How can new and existing organizations build credibility — including with people who have never trusted mainstream media, and in an age when people trust facts less than before?

Read moreNC Local News Summit countdown: A great time for talking about trust, and have you picked your breakout session?

Speakers, facilitators and you: NC Local News Summit update

We headlined the upcoming NC Local News Summit “The Power of Many,” and that power is evident in the people coming together for the Jan. 13 session. Helping build the program are speakers, discussionleaders and attendees whose own expertise will be shared during the breakout workshops.

Each breakout will also include a national guest expert, who’ll be there as a resource, and will be set up for participants to share what they’re doing, what they need, and what opportunities they see for strengthening support systems for local news in North Carolina.

Register now, if you haven’t already, for the half-day session. If you have registered, watch your email for a sign-up for breakout sessions. Zoom meeting information will be emailed to registrants Jan. 11.

Find program details here.

Along with the featured speakers and conversation leaders, all of whom have strong NC knowledge and ties, the Summit will be powered by its participants, who include many key players in the state’s vibrant landscape of local news (from established media to one-person startups).

Breakout sessions won’t be panel discussions, but instead will invite people to share experiences, lessons, questions, and needs, and engage participants in brainstorming and discussion.

Find speaker and facilitator summaries and bio links here. A quick list:

  • Our speakers will be Ju-Don Marshall from WFAE, Fran Scarlett from the Institute for Nonprofit News, Philip Napoli from Duke University, Cierra Hinton from Press On and Scalawag magazine, Lizzy Hazeltine from the NC Local News Lab Fund, Les High from the Whiteville News-Reporter, and Anika Anand from LION Publishers.
  • Breakouts will be led by Fiona Morgan of Branchhead Consulting and the American Journalism Project and Philip Napoli; Cole Goins from Journalism+Design, Ryan Thornburg from UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media and Shannan Bowen of McClatchy, and Katherine Goldstein of the Double Shift podcast.
  • Joining them will be some national guest experts: Joy Mayer of Trusting News, Stefanie Murray from the Center for Cooperative Media, and Tracie Powell from the Borealis Project.
  • Each session also features contributing participants who’ll speak about their efforts and how to build on them.

The program begins at 8:30 a.m. with a social networking half-hour. The session opens at 9 a.m. with a welcome from Dean Rochelle L. Ford of the Elon University School of Communications, home of the NC Local News Workshop, and continues with a series of short talks and conversations through 11 a.m. Breakout sessions run 11:15-12:30, and the full group will come back together to hear takeaways from each session.

All sessions will be recorded via Zoom, and we’ll share recording links and other resource material with all attendees.

Hope to see you there.

A community gathering in support of local news in North Carolina: Join us Jan. 13

With Christmas near and a New Year beckoning, we at the NC Local News Workshop celebrate the many ways local journalists and media helped people in our state understand and navigate unprecedented challenges in 2020.

In the year of COVID-19, we’ve seen North Carolina residents actively involved in local democracy in countless ways, including high levels of election participation, protests, community responses to the pandemic, and initiatives to address racial inequity.

Our local journalists and media organizations have worked ceaselessly, and often in creative and inventive ways, to inform their communities, even as they faced their own hardships, financial challenges, and family stresses.

That’s why we’re gathering people together on Jan. 13 from 8:30 am-1 pm for the first NC Local News Summit, hosted by the Workshop with support from the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media at UNC. It’s a chance to make connections, learn what people are doing, and brainstorm together to solve problems or advance opportunities.

Local news needs community, just as communities need local news.

Read moreA community gathering in support of local news in North Carolina: Join us Jan. 13

NC Local for Dec. 16: As 2020 ebbs, there’s a fount of hope (and not just in a vial)

By Eric Frederick, NC Local newsletter editor

[Also in the Dec. 16 edition: Registration opens for the NC Local News Summit; . Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox each week]

I started my very first NC Local newsletter — back on April 29, a couple of millenia ago — by asking something of you:

Never call it a day until you’ve done these things: 

  1. Helped somebody.
  2. Done something for your own wellness.
  3. Thought about the future. 

Because I’m not as good at those things as I’d like to be, I probably didn’t fully realize that the first two points are actually one. Doing one is doing the other. 

It’s my great fortune that in just the past two years, I’ve worked with three extraordinary leaders who do understand that: Robyn Tomlin at The News & Observer, Mebane Rash at EducationNC, and Melanie Sill at the NC Local News Workshop. They, and many others in our small band, know that we can better empower our communities when we empower one another, and care for ourselves. 

As 2020 ends, the swell of collaboration and mutual support across our state’s news and information community, even among competitors, is a fount of hope. To call it a necessary concession in a year of trial would be to diminish its spirit. And it has come during a time of unprecedented isolation, stress, fatigue and physical peril.

So, while you’re still on the job, getting your communities the information they need — to assess the COVID vaccine, to anticipate and influence how Biden/Harris policies might change their lives, and to stay safe over the holidays — do me one more favor:

Make time to take a really long, deep breath. And give yourself a pat on the back. 

A related read: ‘It’s a silent epidemic’: Mental health in newsrooms needs more attention. Jessica Davies, Digiday.

NC Local for Dec. 9: Where the sun don’t shine*

By Eric Frederick, NC Local newsletter editor

[Also in the Dec. 9 edition: Sharif Durhams returns to NC as The N&O/Herald-Sun’s new managing editor, and answers a few of our questions; Report for America adds NC newsrooms for grant-funded journalist jobs in 2021; and more good work. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox each week]

Tuesday was an extraordinary day, to say the least, at Alamance County’s Historic Courthouse in Graham. Tom Boney Jr., publisher of The Alamance News, was forcibly removed from a second-floor courtroom and handcuffed in a hallway outside — for asserting his constitutional right to be there.

Deputies — citing COVID restrictions and by order of visiting District Judge Fred Wilkins — had denied The Alamance News, Carli Brosseau of The News & Observer and Jordan Green of Triad City Beat entry to the courthouse. They were there to cover the case of a woman accused of felony assault with a deadly weapon against two girls at a Black Lives Matter protest in August. (The journalists also had been barred Dec. 2 from a hearing in another protest-related case.)

Their three news organizations objected to the denial of access and asked for a hearing. The motion, written by their attorney, Amanda Martin, general counsel to the North Carolina Press Association, said the journalists had been told they could not enter unless they were parties to the proceedings. The denial also came without a written order specifying the reasons — something that U.S. Supreme Court rulings have said is required. And the journalists had been denied their right to a hearing on the decision. 

The objection (read it here) cited Article I, Section 18 of the state Constitution (“All courts shall be open”) and several precedents supporting a “common law and constitutional right of access to judicial records and proceedings.” 

‘This courtroom is not closed to the public; it is closed to you.’

But when Boney, who was allowed inside to file the objection, tried to speak in its defense, Wilkins ordered him removed from the courtroom. Deputies took him out and handcuffed him briefly in a hallway. 

Boney told Green later that Wilkins had told him: “This courtroom is not closed to the public; it is closed to you.”

Brosseau, in this Twitter thread, and Green, here, offer a running account of what happened. Here’s the Alamance News report.

All three newsrooms had to rely on interviews afterward to report the outcome of the case (two misdemeanor guilty pleas). [N&O] [Triad City Beat] [Alamance News]

“We plan to appeal and seek an immediate remedy,” Robyn Tomlin, president and editor of The N&O, told me this morning. Green told me that Triad City Beat also would seek appellate review.

(You’ll remember that one of Boney’s reporters, Tomas Murawski, was arrested in October while covering a voting march in Graham. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has urged the Graham police to drop those charges.)

 The RCFP has a guide to reporters’ newsgathering rights, including court access.

  ➵ * I know. It’s an idiom.

Meanwhile, down I-85 in Gastonia…

Gaston County commissioners had been scheduled to vote Tuesday night to authorize spending $100,000 to pursue a libel suit against The Gaston Gazette, but their meeting was delayed until Dec. 17 by what a county news release called “a potential COVID case,” Ann Doss Helms reports for WFAE.

The lawsuit challenges a Gazette report Nov. 12 that raised questions about the board’s adherence to the state’s Open Meetings Law.

It may seem obvious, but Helms and Nick de la Canal of WFAE have four constitutional experts on the record saying that public bodies can’t sue for libel, citing New York Times v. Sullivan.

Each of the seven commissioners, and the board itself, are plaintiffs in the suit, which says the Gazette story “impeaches Plaintiffs in their trades or professions.” It asks for actual and punitive damages.

Stay tuned on that one, too.

NC Local for Dec. 2: How a reporter’s vacation trip produced a prize-winning health series

Taylor Knopf

By Eric Frederick, NC Local newsletter editor

[Also in the Dec. 2 edition: Sign up for the first NC Local News Summit, resources and tips for covering COVID-19’s surge, and try out a new national map of Black community media]

This one starts with a European vacation that turned into work. Along the way are impromptu train rides, weeks of nausea and naps on the floor. It ends with a prestigious award — and maybe, just maybe, some changing perceptions.

The protagonist is reporter Taylor Knopf. I worked with her for a minute when I was the interim political editor at The News & Observer in 2016, before she moved on to cover mental health for founder and editor Rose Hoban at the nonprofit North Carolina Health News. After learning that Knopf had won a first-place AHCJ Award for Excellence in Health Care Journalism for her six-part series called Lessons From Abroad, I called her to get the backstory.

It starts in 2018. I’ll let her tell it:

————

I had booked these tickets to Paris for Andy and me, just as a vacation to get away. (Andy is her husband, Andy Specht, the PolitiFact NC reporter at WRAL.) A couple of months later Rose comes to the group and says, “Hey, we have this opportunity to get a last-minute Solutions Journalism grant.”

I had recently read a story in, I think, the Atlantic, about a drug consumption room or a safe injection site in Paris. And I thought, we’re going to Paris, maybe I could stop by there — I mean, that’s a solution that we don’t have here in the United States to the opioid problem. And I was probably the main person writing about opioids for North Carolina Health News. So I proposed to Rose … I could tack a day or two onto my trip and visit this. 

(Eric here. Hoban told me that her reaction was: “Are you sure you want to do this on your vacation?” Well, she was. With only a few days to write a proposal, Knopf hopped on the phone.)

I had to start making contacts in Europe in the harm reduction community, and that’s kind of hard to do because I don’t know anybody over there, right? And there’s the language barrier. So I started with, I think it was somebody who used to work at WUNC who knew somebody who worked in England who knew somebody who worked in Paris. So it was this chain of people, and finally, they said, “You know who’s really at the forefront of harm reduction in Europe? It’s Switzerland. And here’s the guy who’s really leading the effort.” So I start talking to this guy in Switzerland on the phone, and he just had all these great ideas for people I could talk to there.

And then I heard about heroin assisted treatment there … and he’s like, “By the way, it’s only a six-hour train ride from Paris.” So I made this grant proposal that had started with, “Hey, I’ll just drop by a Paris drug consumption room” to this elaborate four-city tour in Europe that spans the course of 10 days. 

(She got the grant, changed her itinerary, and left for France a week earlier than planned, alone — to report on harm reduction programs in Paris and Bordeaux.)

And then Andy flew into Paris … and we immediately boarded the train and went to Switzerland, and the first two to three days were actually just me working and Andy carrying my stuff and taking photos … I mean, I took Andy into a heroin assisted treatment facility when people were literally injecting in the room next to us. We got coffee with a heroin patient afterward, and that was our evening that day. Andy was a really good sport about it all, and I think he found it super interesting, too, as another reporter.

 (The actual vacation followed — hiking in the Alps, visiting family in Germany, and back to Paris. And then…)

The last few days of the trip, I started to feel sicker and sicker, and the trains were starting to get to me, like motion sickness. And the very last night in Paris, I vomited all night. Just barely could make the flight the next day because I’d been up all night sick. And I was like, wow, maybe this has all just gotten to me, all this traveling and time change, and I’d really poured myself into the trip, so I thought I was just making myself sick. But as soon as I got home, I checked the calendar and I was like, ooh — actually, this could be something else.

(And it was. It was their son, Theo, who was born the following summer, and is most definitely something else.)

And then, obviously, I had to start writing. I had to piece together all of the video, photo, and audio, everything, and I was so sick. I took naps on the floor in between writing. But it paid off.

(The photo above, showing Knopf interviewing Thilo Beck, the head psychiatrist at a heroin treatment facility in Zürich, was taken by Specht — who may or may not have a future on the visual side, if he grows tired of all that fact checking.)

The reverb 

Knopf said she’s heard from people throughout the country, from doctoral students to the State Department — but “the most we can ask for is the start of a conversation around these harm reduction methods that are currently illegal in the United States.”

The award — first place in the Public Health (small) category of the Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism competition, held by the Association of Health Care Journalists — is the first AHCJ award for NC Health News. A look at the other winners will tell you what kind of company Knopf is in.

“I have been entering AHCJ contests 15 years and never won a damn thing,” Hoban, who edited the series, told me — “and here, on her first go, she wins a … first place. I nearly lost all of my best buttons! I’m so proud of her.”  

[Read the series.] 

[Read Knopf’s tips for reporting such a project.] 

[Find out more about Solutions Journalism, including available training.] 

 

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