Join the UNC public records project

Late last month, the NC Open Government Coalition at Elon, working with the NC Local News Workshop, launched a project to “educate the public about the inner workings of UNC’s public records system and to spur collaboration among journalists covering the state’s flagship university.” 

The Coalition began by joining with a group of journalists, professors, and nonprofit organizations to file eight initial requests with UNC for public records related to Nikole Hannah-Jones’ recruitment to UNC. UNC has responded in some fashion to three of those requests, and project leaders are “working through an impasse” on one of those, Coalition director Brooks Fuller told me Tuesday. You can see the requests and track their progress on the project page on MuckRock, which also has a link to view and download the responsive documents. 

Read moreJoin the UNC public records project

Joe Killian of NC Policy Watch talks about Nikole Hannah-Jones, UNC, the art of reporting, fairness and the faults of journalism

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from July 14, which includes related reporting on this UNC story, details about courtroom access issues impacting journalists across the state, the inspiring story of a mother and daughter who became community health workers and more. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday. 

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

Joe KillianI caught up late last week with investigative reporter Joe Killian of NC Policy Watch, who broke the biggest stories in the saga of UNC and Nikole Hannah-Jones, to talk about that story, about his philosophy of reporting and about the triumphs, challenges and faults of local journalism.

Killian came to Policy Watch five years ago after a decade at the News & Record in Greensboro, where he reported on police, courts, higher education, politics and government. His work now “takes a closer look at government, politics and policy in North Carolina and their impact on the lives of everyday people,” his Policy Watch bio says. 

Here’s our interview, edited for length and clarity:

Read moreJoe Killian of NC Policy Watch talks about Nikole Hannah-Jones, UNC, the art of reporting, fairness and the faults of journalism

What comes next for supporting NC local news to fuel democracy

This post is featured in the NC Local newsletter for June 9, which also includes links to a handout and video recording of last week’s Census coverage prep session, and information on a campaign finance tool and training via the NC Open Government Coalition and the Open Raleigh Brigade of Code for America. Sign up to get NC Local delivered to your inbox every Wednesday.

Melanie Sill

The newsletter called NC Local launched three years ago with a simple aim: I wanted others to hear about the experiments, successes, and amazingly committed people I was encountering all over North Carolina as a journalism adviser for a foundation called Democracy Fund.

I figured I’d wind the newsletter down if there weren’t enough readers or when I ran out of things to write about. Neither happened: NC Local keeps adding subscribers and has blossomed as Ryan Tuck took it over in 2019 and Eric Frederick came on as its editor in 2020. 

My role shifted, too, and in June 2020 I came on as the interim leader of a new entity called the NC Local News Workshop, housed at the Elon University School of Communications, which took a major step forward last week when Shannan Bowen arrived as executive director. Our state is lucky to have her in this job: More on Shannan in a minute, but first I want to tell a little more of that story of local news transformation in North Carolina, and why it both excites me and leaves me worried.

North Carolina is home to groundbreaking research on the local news crisis (really a civic crisis), and we’ve drawn national notice for the collaboration, scholarship, new voices, and new approaches taking root here. As a NC Local reader, you’re in on this storyline and read about the players, their problems and successes each week.

Yet you also read here about the big challenges for local news everywhere as a sustainable enterprise: How to find and reach readers and viewers (who have so many choices); how to represent and serve people and communities (Black, Latino, blue collar) who have been poorly served by news in the past; what funding model is right, and how to find revenue in any model; how to deal with anti-press hostility and support journalists; how to counter misinformation and disinformation; how to earn credibility in a cynical media environment.

These are wicked problems, and I’ve been encouraged when people and organizations come together to take them on, in partnerships or more broadly. That’s part of the Workshop’s mission: To bring people together, and to provide resources that serve more than one entity.

Read moreWhat comes next for supporting NC local news to fuel democracy

We support Nikole Hannah-Jones’ tenured appointment

The NC Local News Workshop stands in support of Pulitzer-winning investigative reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones, who would bring valuable expertise back to our state as the new Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at the UNC Hussman School of Media and Journalism.

As an organization that supports high-quality local news for people in North Carolina, we celebrated the recent announcement of Hannah-Jones’ new role as a gain for journalistic excellence across the state. We work in partnership and alliance with the Hussman School and Dean Susan King, and appreciated the dean’s note that with Hannah-Jones’ appointment, ”one of the most respected investigative journalists in America will be working with our students on projects that will move their careers forward and ignite critically important conversations.”

Our own work has shown us that many NC journalists seek guidance and methods for reporting accurately and honestly on race and racism, and the appointment of one of the nation’s top journalists at our state’s flagship public university offers a resource for rigorous reporting in the public interest.

Thus, we are deeply concerned by reports that UNC leaders’ decision to withhold tenure in the appointment (breaking a precedent from two prior Knight chairs) may have been based on political opposition to the substance of Hannah-Jones’ journalism, in particular her pathbreaking role in leading the New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project

An environment in which a respected educational institution retaliates against an accomplished journalist for political or ideological reasons would chill press freedom as well as academic freedom, and we share concerns raised by UNC Hussman faculty members and other current Knight chairs in recent letters.

Hannah-Jones, who began her professional career at The News & Observer and reported deeply on the Durham Public Schools, developed her reputation through continued exemplary journalism at The Oregonian, ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine. 

Her work has been recognized with many of our nation’s top honors, including the Pulitzer Prize, a MacArthur Fellowship and election to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Her reporting has greatly expanded public knowledge and understanding of complex issues related to the historic and enduring roles of race and racism in our society. She has been honored by UNC-Chapel Hill as a distinguished alumna and as a member of the NC Media & Journalism Hall of Fame.

Hannah-Jones cares deeply about advancing journalistic excellence, and few reporters have contributed as generously to the betterment of the profession. She has championed investigative skill-building and professional development for journalists of color by co-founding the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Journalism. She also has worked tirelessly to contribute to training and education for journalists through speeches, workshops, training sessions, mentoring and advocacy, including support for colleagues and students in North Carolina. 

We support Nikole Hannah-Jones and endorse her tenured appointment on its merits.

The NC Local News Workshop, a nonprofit organization housed at the Elon University School of Communications, supports transformative approaches to journalism and civic information as a public service for all North Carolina residents. Learn more via our website or contact Melanie Sill, interim executive director.

 

New slate of Workshop events address AAPI coverage and NC media, source diversity, and Census coverage prep

We’ve added three programs to the NC Local News Workshop events and training calendar. All will be offered via Zoom and are free for participants, but registration is required. Check out the events pages (linked from event titles) and click the registration button to reserve your spot.

 

NC Local for March 31: Full-court press in Asheville, and the public wins

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from March 31, including Carolina Public Press joining a national project on trust in news, McClatchy layoffs, and a long list of links to free help and funding opportunities. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox weekly.

By Eric Frederick, NC Local newsletter editor

When the Asheville City Council decided it would close the doors today for the first day of a two-day gathering, in a session to “strengthen alignment, teamwork and trust,” it didn’t reckon on another kind of alignment and teamwork — and a legal covenant of trust.

Local media reported on the plan to violate the state’s open meetings law, including Mountain Xpress Managing Editor Virginia Daffron, who wrote that “we take our watchdog role seriously” and that previous team-building exercises had illuminated “personal histories and philosophies that Council members and senior city staffers brought to their work.” Kate Martin of Carolina Public Press, Matt Bush of Blue Ridge Public Radio and Joel Burgess of the Asheville Citizen Times also reported on the issue.

Amanda Martin, general counsel to the NC Press Association, and Frayda Bluestein, professor in the UNC School of Government, advised that the gathering — at a public facility, with two facilitators paid with public money — was a meeting, subject to the law.

Read moreNC Local for March 31: Full-court press in Asheville, and the public wins

NC Local deep dive: Kyle Villemain on his new digital magazine The Assembly and ‘power journalism’ for NC

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from March 10, including a preview of the NC Open Government Coalition’s 2021 Sunshine Day program, leadership transitions at The Daily Tar Heel and Scalawag, job opportunities and some recent standout local journalism

By Eric Frederick, NC Local newsletter editor

Pacing his apartment as the pandemic got real last spring, Kyle Villemain recalls, he thought a lot about something he’d long considered — that local media needed “to go deep on North Carolina.” As long days of rumination passed, he decided he’d have a go at it himself.

Kyle Villemain headshot
Kyle Villemain

Nine months of intense conversation with media and thought leaders led to The Assembly, launched last month as a statewide digital magazine and billed as a place “for stories that aren’t being told — and for those that deserve a deeper look” and one “focused on deep long-form reporting and smart ideas writing.”

After growing up in Carrboro and graduating from UNC in 2015, Villemain, 28, was deputy finance director for a congressional campaign in New Hampshire and then worked as a speechwriter for UNC chancellor Carol Folt and UNC system president Margaret Spellings. After Spellings left UNC in early 2019, Villemain wrote speeches as a freelancer while contemplating what he saw lacking in the state’s news and information landscape.

What he saw, he told me, was a lot of good work but also “how much is going on underneath the surface and how much, if you’re not in the room, you’re not quite privy to what’s happening — and we need more journalism that tries to put people into the room.”

The goal, he says in his introductory piece on the Assembly site, is to redirect some of North Carolinians’ attention to a serious dialogue about the state’s politics, education, media, environment, business and arts. He says he’s emphasizing diversity — in political voices and in the backgrounds of the freelance writers and creatives who will do the work. The name, he says, is “a reference to the act of assembling a state through its disparate parts: people, ideas, and institutions.”

 Villemain told me he plans to roll out five to seven long-form stories per month and several more short-form pieces — what he calls “smart ideas writing.” Long-form topics so far include the motivations of state Senate leader Phil Berger, Cecil Staton’s ill-fated tenure as ECU chancellor, and the “historical erasure” of the Black experience in Tarboro and Edgecombe County. There’s also a twice-weekly newsletter.

The Assembly is a C corporation, supported for now by subscribers (as little as $3 a month) and investors. Non-subscribers can read one free story per month. Advertising will play a small role, Villemain told me.

The Assembly is featured in today’s NC Local newsletter. Here’s more of our conversation, edited for length and clarity:

Read moreNC Local deep dive: Kyle Villemain on his new digital magazine The Assembly and ‘power journalism’ for NC

Training opportunity: Report on public health, learn data skills and land a story

Local journalists can build on a recent UNC data journalism project showing a decline in North Carolina public health funding — and report a local story while learning data skills — through a workshop during the NC Press Association conference this Friday and followup hands-on training March 15 for selected participants.

The training draws on work by the Carolina Data Desk and students of UNC Hussman Associate Prof. Ryan Thornburg, who analyzed information from 45 counties in North Carolina for a story that showed that public health funding in the state had dropped in recent years even as population and needs increased.

That story by Rachel Crumpler, published Jan. 19 by The News & Observer, explored North Carolina funding statewide as a followup to national reporting by Kaiser Health News. Now, Thornburg is partnering with the NC Press Association and  the NC Local News Workshop to help local reporters across the state dig into funding at the county level.

The project promises lots of wins: Training for reporters who take part, a deeper look at some counties and new data from others, and strong stories for local publications.

To see if your county was included in the UNC student analysis, check out one-page summaries offering a snapshot and starting points for local reporting.

If your county is missing, that means the next step would be getting and analyzing your local health department’s data. Sign up for one or both:

  • Feb. 26, 2 p.m. via Zoom: How to use data to report about public health spending (Open at no cost to all interested participants, courtesy of NCPA. Sign up.
  • March 15, 3 p.m.-5 p.m.: Data Reporting workshop — Hands on training while reporting a local story. Apply.
    • Five reporters will be selected for a free 2-hour hands-on workshop, led by Thornburg and Melanie Sill of the NC Local News Workshop, that walks reporters step-by-step through the skills they need to use data to find and tell stories about local public health departments. Deadline for applying: Monday, March 8.

 

NC Local for Feb. 3: The crabgrass, and the palm trees, in our back yard

By Eric Frederick, NC Local newsletter editor

[Also in the Feb. 3 edition: NCPA conference agenda, remembering editor and mentor Mike Yopp, journalism shoutouts, jobs and opportunities; DTH prevails in UNC suit and reveals misleading communication in Silent Sam legal settlement. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox each week]

In the local news landscape in North Carolina, speaking metaphorically:

There are some “weeds growing up in the empty lots,” as Sarabeth Berman of the American Journalism Project says about the creep of disinformation. And there are partisan pitches masquerading as news. But here and there, an oasis is growing in a news desert — with some help from our community of purpose.

My final takeaways from speakers at the NC Local News Summit / The Power of Many

GETTING IN THE WEEDS

Philip Napoli, professor of public policy at the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy in the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, and Asa Royal, research associate at the center:

Napoli, who will become director of the DeWitt Wallace Center in July, for years has been researching the health and quality of local news beyond the metrics, in a qualitative way: Is this reporting really local? Is it original? Does it address community needs? Recently he and Royal have been digging into the rise of hyperpartisan sites in the guise of local news. You can read some of the findings in this Nieman Lab piece.

Royal and Napoli report that in North Carolina, an organization called Metric Media has 49 digital outlets, deployed all at once in 2018, with home pages that are nearly identical and with content that’s often dated, much of which links to a single source called Old North News.

Read moreNC Local for Feb. 3: The crabgrass, and the palm trees, in our back yard

Announcing the NC Media Equity Project: 6 partners join NC Local News Workshop

(Originally posted Jan. 25 on Elon University’s Today at Elon website)

Six leading North Carolina media organizations have joined the NC Local News Workshop at Elon University in a pilot project aiming to advance diversity, equity and inclusion in news and public affairs information for the state’s residents.

The NC Media Equity Project will include: ABC11/WTVD-TV in the Raleigh-Durham area; statewide education policy and news outlet EducationNC; North Carolina’s two largest newspapers (McClatchy’s Charlotte Observer and The News & Observer/Herald-Sun); statewide public television network PBS North Carolina (formerly UNC-TV); and WFAE, Charlotte’s NPR News Station.

The project focuses on joining the participating media organizations as a learning cohort and support network for their efforts to better represent, include and serve North Carolina residents who are Black, Native American, Latino, or LGBTQ, and other stakeholders who have lacked representation or agency in media.

It grew out of national and local conversations in the summer of 2020, as the Black Lives Matter movement and a series of other events brought new scrutiny to inequity and representation gaps within media organizations as well as in their content and coverage.

Read moreAnnouncing the NC Media Equity Project: 6 partners join NC Local News Workshop