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.

The Citizen Times, Blue Ridge Public Radio, Carolina Public Press, Asheville Watchdog and Mountain Xpress joined to argue that point Monday in court, and Buncombe County Superior Court Judge Steven Warren agreed Tuesday. Today’s teamwork session will be open to the media and public.

“After a year in which the public has had less access to public officials and the public process, we felt that this was the wrong time to lock a meeting that’s previously been open,” Daffron told me after the ruling. The joint effort, she said, “shows all local government entities, not just Asheville City Council, that we’re committed to advocating for everyone’s right to have access to the workings of their government.”

In an odd postscript, the council then canceled its planned livestream of the event — and decided instead to offer a recording later on YouTube.

Speaking of vigilance…

Lucille Sherman of The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun has won the 2021 Sunshine Award for Journalism from the NC Open Government Coalition for her late-night detection and reporting of a legislative provision, buried in a 17-page bill, that could have kept many records on North Carolina death investigations secret.

The reporting was followed by protests and the governor’s veto of the bill, Senate Bill 168. Sherman talks about how it happened in my newsletter of last July 8.

Sherman credited her editor, Jordan Schrader, and reporters Nick Ochsner of WBTV and the aforementioned Kate Martin of Carolina Public Press with helping her report the story.

By the way, those folks are all among the members of the NC Watchdog Reporting Network, which is celebrating a year of collaborative investigative reporting. Happy Birthday, watchdogs.

    ➵ Read more about how that network operates in my newsletter last May 26.

Local voice: Chris Fitzsimon

Chris Fitzsimon
Fitzsimon

I caught up with Chris Fitzsimon to get an update on States Newsroom, a network of newsrooms reporting on policy and politics, based in state capitals, with the administrative, financial and editing support of its national office based in Chapel Hill. Launched in 2019, States Newsroom continues to expand, in its network of newsrooms and in its content sharing. Fitzsimon is the director and publisher.

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

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