Understand, and report, the process: A conversation with Pat Gannon of the State Board of Elections

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from August 31 for more from the Workshop, including industry news, job postings and shout-outs to journalists statewideSign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

Pat Gannon
Pat Gannon

My former colleague Pat Gannon has worked both sides of the political journalism street — as a reporter and editor for 17 years, and for nearly six years now as public information director for the State Board of Elections.

That gives him a distinct perspective on the state of political reporting, elections administration, voter awareness and trust, the threats to democracy, and how news and information professionals can best serve the electorate.

I caught up with him the other day for a conversation about the serious challenges that face elections administrators and journalists these days — and about how journalists can empower voters, and increase trust in the workings of democracy.

Here’s our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity:

EF: So how has your job changed in the last couple of years?

PG: We had a very close governor’s race in 2016 that got messy afterwards. I didn’t think it could get worse or get tougher.

2020 got tougher.

Read moreUnderstand, and report, the process: A conversation with Pat Gannon of the State Board of Elections

Find the ‘heart and soul of the community’: Tips on listening and learning from a visit to the Qualla Boundary

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from August 24 for more from the Workshop, including industry news, job postings and shout-outs to journalists statewideSign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

By Shannan Bowen, NC Local News Workshop Executive Director

You can learn about communities and their histories, but you don’t truly understand a community until you learn about its people.

This was a wise message shared with me by Lily Wright, who was recently hired to help the Workshop with a community listening event on the Qualla Boundary, home to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians.

Two people talk while sitting at a table
Lily Wright, left, interviews Jonah Lossiah, a reporter from the Cherokee One Feather.

Lily, who is Cherokee and works at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, helped the Workshop convene people from her community for discussions about local issues, perceptions of news coverage and access to news and information. Working alongside Brenda Murphree, the Workshop’s Western NC Research and Community Listening Fellow, Lily arranged and led a series of interviews and focus groups with EBCI members during a humid week in July. These discussions are part of our broader Western NC community listening project that focuses on the 18 westernmost counties of our state, prioritizing listening to communities of color, people in rural areas and people who are impacted by lack of high-speed broadband and other accessibility issues. We’re hoping to learn more about the news and information needs, habits and challenges in Western NC so that the Workshop can help local news organizations understand and address those unmet community needs.

I sat down with Lily after our Qualla Boundary event to talk about her experience interviewing her community members, insights that were shared, and what journalists should know about listening to communities of color. Topics that surfaced in the community listening discussions included representation of Indigenous people in news; where people turn first for news and information; and local and tribal issues that mattered to them.

Read moreFind the ‘heart and soul of the community’: Tips on listening and learning from a visit to the Qualla Boundary

Fearfully and wonderfully made

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from August 10 for more from the Workshop, including industry news, job postings and shout-outs to journalists statewideSign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

Whenever I encounter artistry — Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95; a complex barleywine, aged to bliss in a bourbon barrel; Messrs. Howard, Fine and Howard’s “Disorder in the Court” — I want not only to take it all in, but also to know: How’d they do that?

So I asked Barry Yeoman the other day about “Schism in the Body.”

Barry YeomanOne thing I always appreciate about Yeoman’s writing is that it lets me multitask: While I’m learning about his subjects, I’m also learning something about craft. In “Schism,” a dive into a bitter divide in the United Methodist Church and within a Statesville congregation, published last week by The Assembly, he lets us hear the radically different viewpoints that are doing the rending, but manages to impart the humanity, the dignity, even the wisdom of each person we meet along the way.

Yeoman proves the axiom that good nonfiction writing comes from strong reporting — from taking the time, doing the digging, getting to know the people, being faithful to the truth, building trust. When you get a traditionalist pastor to admit to lust, and in such a lyrical turn of phrase — ‘My lands! She is fearfully and wonderfully made’ — well, obviously you’ve built a relationship.

Read moreFearfully and wonderfully made

‘Young women having opinions really makes people angry.’ A chat with McClatchy opinion writers Sara Pequeño and Paige Masten.

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

It’s an understatement to say these are challenging times for opinion writers. 

Sara Pequeño
Sara Pequeño

Obviously, our society has rarely been this polarized. The internet has blurred the perceived lines between opinion and news content, which were never clear anyway to much of the audience. Misinformation is trusted by millions; solidly reported perspectives are dismissed as media propaganda. The supposed motives of mainstream media, always challenged, are questioned daily, perhaps more than ever.

Paige Masten
Paige Masten

Inside newsrooms, the definitions and rules of objectivity are changing. Much of the news reporting is becoming more interpretive. Threats are rife against those who report the news — let alone against those who bring provocative opinions and perspectives to the table — while social media make them more vulnerable. 

And many news outlets are scaling back their production of opinion content. (See Gannett’s recent moves).

Given all of that, what’s it like to be a woman in her early to mid-20s, not long out of college, writing opinion content for daily metro newsrooms that are trying some new approaches? 

That very small club includes Sara Pequeño and Paige Masten, members since last year of McClatchy’s North Carolina opinion team — Pequeño based at The News & Observer in Raleigh, and Masten at The Charlotte Observer. 

I had the privilege of a frank chat with them the other day about what they do, and about their challenges.

Read more‘Young women having opinions really makes people angry.’ A chat with McClatchy opinion writers Sara Pequeño and Paige Masten.

Swelter in place

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from June 15 for more from the Workshop, including industry news, job postings and shout-outs to journalists statewideSign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

With the possible exception of your investment portfolio (especially if you built it on the financial acumen of Matt Damon), everything this week is core-meltdown hot.

Let’s see if we can find some relief in a few cool things I’ve come across …

Dive into something deep

You’ll remember the Security for Sale series, a deep report by the McClatchy newsrooms in May on how corporate landlords were buying up single-family rental properties in North Carolina, to the detriment of renters.

Now the reporters behind that series and the Pulitzer Center, which helped fund the work, are sharing a toolkit that can help others investigate corporate rental ownership in their communities. They’ve included tutorials and are offering to help other reporters as they use the tools. 

News & Observer investigative reporter Tyler Dukes, who led the effort, told me that for media in our state, “probably the best use would be to pull our North Carolina data and look for local stories. Which neighborhoods are seeing particularly active corporate buyers? How is that impacting renting and buying?

Read moreSwelter in place

A conversation with Phoebe Zerwick about reporting, narrative, racism, privacy, truth and her book, ‘Beyond Innocence’

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

Phoebe Zerwick
Phoebe Zerwick | Photo by Christine Rucker

Phoebe Zerwick is a longtime investigative journalist who is now director of the journalism program and professor of the practice at Wake Forest University. Her book, “Beyond Innocence: The Life Sentence of Darryl Hunt,” is the story of the remarkable life of a Black man and his wrongful conviction of a 1984 rape and murder in Winston-Salem, his exoneration after nearly two brutal decades in prison, and the consequences that followed, both heroic and tragic.

I had the privilege of speaking with Zerwick recently about the book and the case, and about the roles, approaches and limitations of local journalists in reporting on the criminal justice system and the people who find themselves in it. Here is our conversation, edited for length and clarity:

EF: You wrote about the Darryl Hunt case for the Winston-Salem Journal in 2003. Talk about what you found then that surprised you, what the media may have missed.

PZ: I was assigned to take a deep, fresh look at Darryl Hunt’s case in 2003, right after he filed a motion for a new round of DNA testing so that the DNA profile could be run against what was then a new thing — databases of DNA of convicted offenders. And it was a case that, of course, had been covered by my newspaper regularly for 19 years. So I and all of our readers knew many of the facts of the case, including the fact that he claimed he was railroaded, that he claimed he was innocent, and that there were many holes in the case against him. That’s important because a lot of these cases have been neglected, going on without public scrutiny, and that was not the situation here. 

Read moreA conversation with Phoebe Zerwick about reporting, narrative, racism, privacy, truth and her book, ‘Beyond Innocence’

Spotlight: How student journalist Xanayra Marin-Lopez meets unfilled Appalachia community needs

Hi there! My name is Gaby Rivas-De Leon, and I am the communications intern at the NC Local News Workshop this semester. In keeping with the workshop’s dedication to helping North Carolina news organizations serve their communities, I am guest-writing the top of today’s newsletter to highlight a community near and dear to my heart: college journalists! Being a journalism major at Elon University has been one of my most fulfilling experiences. It’s a passion that has taken me near and far, from covering a local mural in downtown Burlington to shadowing a sustainable farm in the heart of Paris…

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from April 27 for more news from the NC Local News Workshop, notable industry updates from throughout the state, job listings and more. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

By Gaby Rivas-De Leon, Guest Writer

Xanayra Marin-LopezCollege journalists are the ultimate jugglers, balancing school work and the high-speed world of the industry. They aren’t just studying journalism anymore. Because of the growing media divide in small communities around the state, college journalists are tasked with covering both their college towns and the surrounding communities. They are often the only news source or voice there.

“We should not underestimate the role of college journalists in their communities. They’re attending local government meetings, filing public records requests, waking up in the middle of the night to cover breaking news, and often for little or no pay,” said Shannan Bowen, executive director of the Workshop. “Some of the communities these journalists cover have no other daily local news source. These communities both need and value the student news organizations and the reporters who work for them.”

Read moreSpotlight: How student journalist Xanayra Marin-Lopez meets unfilled Appalachia community needs

Trust and inclusion in immigrant narratives

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from April 20 for more news from the NC Local News Workshop, kudos for journalists across North Carolina, industry updates, job listings and more. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

Liz RobbinsA highlight of the incredible month I spent on that Thursday back in March at the NC News & Information Summit was chatting with Liz Robbins, and learning a little about her work researching local news ecosystems and immigration reporting. Her latest work deeply involves our North Carolina community.

Robbins was a New York Times reporter for 19 years — starting in sports, where she covered the NBA and the Olympics, and later reporting on immigrant communities and immigration policy. After teaching immigration reporting at Columbia Journalism School, she became director of journalism partnerships at Define American, a nonprofit founded by Pulitzer-winning reporter Jose Antonio Vargas that works to humanize the narrative around immigration. 

During one Summit session, after our first chat, she quietly walked to the back of the room where I was standing and slipped me something. It’s a toolkit she produced with Define American on the use of anonymous sources in immigration reporting, and the care we need to take while building trust with people who literally put their lives on the line to talk to us. It felt a little like a sacred scroll in my hands — “Sorry, I can’t let you keep it,” she whispered — and as I read it, I grew even more impressed. This thing covers every contingency, every question I would ever have. It’s people-centered, mindful, thorough, eminently useful — something every reporter, including those who don’t “cover immigration” as a beat, should read.

Read moreTrust and inclusion in immigrant narratives

A conversation with Angie Newsome of Carolina Public Press

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from March 13 for more news from the NC Local News Workshop, the latest “story recipe,” accolades for journalists across the state, industry updates, job listings and more. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

I got to chat the other day with Angie Newsome, founding executive director of Carolina Public Press, after CPP announced that she would be stepping down as ED by late summer or early fall. Here is our conversation, edited for length and clarity:

Angie Newsome
Angie Newsome

Now that it’s official that you’re leaving, how does it feel?

You know, it’s taken me a long time to get to this point, where I feel like I can, want to, need to, should — let the organization live beyond me, which has been a goal of mine for a long time. So it’s pretty incredible to reach that milestone, but it is bittersweet to be leaving something that I’ve poured my heart and soul into for more than a decade. It’s a roller coaster… But at the end of the day, I have such an incredible team of people that I get to work with now, and the board is really great, so I’m just trying to ride the wave…

What made you want to do CPP in the first place?

We saw a huge need. When we started we were focused in the 18 westernmost counties, for investigative and public service news. And at that point, there was this whole movement of people across the country who were journalists who had come out of a traditional background, who wanted to try going into the nonprofit world and trying a different model of providing news. That was really inspiring to me, and I wanted to see if it could work in the western part of the state. We just wanted to be one solution.

Read moreA conversation with Angie Newsome of Carolina Public Press

Peeling back a ‘simple narrative’

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from March 6 for more news from the NC Local News Workshop, kudos for journalists across North Carolina, industry updates, job listings and more. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

One of the best pieces of journalism in our state in the past week was Mandy Locke’s examination, with the North Carolina News Collaborative, of a provision in last year’s state budget that had some serious unintended consequences.

Mandy Locke
Mandy Locke

After the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in 2020, calls rose for more transparency about officers’ use of deadly force. But as Locke reports, a criminal justice reform bill passed last year did the opposite — actually increasing the secrecy around such incidents in North Carolina.

Locke, a friend and former News & Observer colleague, is an independent investigative reporter who also teaches journalism at Wake Forest University. To do this project, she applied for a grant from The Pulitzer Center and invited the collaborative, a coalition formed in 2019 including 23 news organizations, to be her publishing partner. It’s her second project with the group.

One thing that intrigued her as her reporting progressed, she said, was how vulnerable we can be to well-crafted “simple narratives” from public officials — until we peel back the layers.

Read morePeeling back a ‘simple narrative’