NC Local for Feb. 17: Why source diversity is essential

By Eric Frederick, NC Local newsletter editor

[Also in the Feb. 17 edition: Two new wins for public records access, McClatchy sets new minimum salary for journalists, a new editor for the Sanford Herald, and shoutouts to the Chatham News + Record, NC Health News, Carolina Public Press and others. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox each week]

You can’t cover a community unless you understand it — and that means listening to its people, and to the people who represent it. And that means diversifying your sources.

Melba NewsomeMelba Newsomean independent journalist in Charlotte,has focused for the past year on helping us do that, in her work as a Reynolds Journalism Institute fellow. In this Nieman Reports piece, she talks about the barriers we must overcome. They include media distrust among many Black people — and a reluctance by experts of color to be “used” as token representatives in reporting, or to hand over the fruits of a lifetime of hard work when its “moment” arrives. One academic told her:

‘We’ve been toiling in this vineyard for decades trying to get somebody to pay attention to social justice and these systemic racism issues, but no one cared. Now that it’s a hot topic, you want to come in, pick my brain, and get the benefit of all my hard work for free. No, thanks.’

There’s also, of course, news outlets’ lack of real engagement with communities of color — including the tendency to parachute into a crisis, do a deadline story about a single day in the life of a community … and walk away.

Newsome talks in the piece about four ways to start breaking down those barriers: Redefine who is an expert … lay the groundwork before it’s needed … explain the reporting process … and practice cultural competence. Read more of her advice

As part of her fellowship, Newsome led a survey of journalists about diversity sourcing to help her understand what they’re doing and what they need, and she’s building a training program to help them address the challenge. She’ll go over that curriculum with her media partners — WFAE, The Charlotte Observer and North Carolina Health News — train their newsrooms in it, and then make it available to anyone.

It was my pleasure to chat with Newsome the other day about all of this. Some highlights:

How did this become a passion for you?

I grew increasingly frustrated with the narrowness of the coverage. Every story about Black people shouldn’t be about crime, and every story about Latinos shouldn’t be about immigration. That fails to cover the full spectrum of who we are. 

 People of color are mostly covered when in crisis. …. But we remodel our houses, have book clubs, are sports fans, put our kids in Kumon, and love to cook, too. Also, unless the story is about issues specific to people of color, expert voices are overwhelmingly white. And sometimes even when the story is about Black people, the experts quoted are also white! There are Black epidemiologists, etc., but they are only quoted when the story is about Black people and COVID. Hell, one of the chief vaccine researchers who’s been at Fauci’s side is a young Black North Carolina woman [Kizzmekia Corbett, a Hurdle Mills native who grew up in Hillsborough and earned a doctorate at UNC-Chapel Hill].

Read moreNC Local for Feb. 17: Why source diversity is essential

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

NC Local for Jan. 27: Survive and advance

By Eric Frederick, NC Local newsletter editor

[Also in the Jan. 20 edition: Postal service worries for community newspapers, six NC media orgs join the NC Media Equity Project, a new director for Duke’s DeWitt Wallace Center, and a raft of job and grant) opportunities. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox each week]

One theme of the conversation at the NC Local News Summit on Jan. 13 was Brothers Gibb basic: Stayin’ alive. Fran Scarlett of INN summed it up: Journalism is the mission, but “you have to be sustainable to get to do the journalism.”

The good news: Resources are out there to help. Below are my takeaways from two more of the speakers at the summit (the full event video is here):

DIVERSITY IN EVERYTHING (INCLUDING FUNDING)

Fran Scarlett, chief knowledge officer and business strategy coach at the Institute for Nonprofit News:

Scarlett’s mission from her base in Wilmington is to move us away from thinking only about the journalism and to get us to think about survival as well. She sees news nonprofits diversifying their sustenance with “earned revenue” — sponsorships, advertising and events — and becoming less dependent on foundations. She sees collaborations growing not just in news but in fundraising. And she sees newsrooms moving beyond the idea that hiring is the only place to think about diversity.

Read moreNC Local for Jan. 27: Survive and advance

NC Local for Jan. 20: Are we covering the right power?

By Eric Frederick, NC Local newsletter editor

[Also in the Jan. 20 edition: A new collaborative analysis available to NC local media shows (literally) a network view of 2020 NC campaign giving; how media can help local arts communities through the pandemic; jobs, opportunities, and COVID reporting help) . Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox each week]

Change, paradoxically, is our constant. (There’s a big one happening in DC, right about now.)

People and institutions — especially institutions — often forget that fact. They get comfortable. But every day, if we’re paying attention, we learn something. We get new perspectives, we understand things we didn’t; and if we’re smart, we apply that knowledge. Think about January 2020. How different our approaches and philosophies were, just 12 months ago.

If the news and information community is to continue to empower our quest for a healthy society, we must adapt — every day.

Aside from being my philosophy of life, that was one of my key takeaways from the first NC Local News Summit last week, “The Power of Many,” hosted by the NC Local News Workshop at Elon University with support from the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media at UNC. The name itself suggests a change that has happened over the past decade — the realization that we can do more by leveraging the talents of each of us, rather than being rigidly and relentlessly competitive.

If you’re not one of the 150 or so people who attended the Zoom summit, I recommend the video of the speakers’ presentations. Each speaker talked about some species of transformation.

Today and in weeks to come, I’ll highlight some of their key insights:

Read moreNC Local for Jan. 20: Are we covering the right power?

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

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.] 

 

NC Local for Nov. 25: An election lesson in integrity, and some takes on how local media performed

By Eric Frederick, NC Local newsletter editor

They can have global consequences, but elections are local — and their integrity depends on the dedication of administrators, employees and volunteers, and the local journalists keeping an eye on the processes.

For those of us watching the watchers as county election boards canvassed and reported their results over the past few days, their work has been enlightening, and inspiring. And it isn’t over. The biggest thread yet to be tied — pun intended — is in the race to be the state’s chief justice, where a recount must be finished in the next week.

We’ve learned a lot more along the way. Nick Ochsner‘s reporting for WBTV has led to a State Board of Elections review of irregularities at an Anson County voting site. We’ve seen useful analysis, such as this scrutiny of notable shifts in sentiment around the state by Paul Woolverton and Brian Gordon in The Fayetteville Observer. And we saw a very human lesson in integrity, too:

Sara Knotts, like thousands of election administrators throughout the country, is extraordinarily devoted to her duty. But after her mother voted by mail and then died before Election Day, few have had their allegiance to democracy tested as emotionally as Knotts.

“I couldn’t even bring myself to start doing the briefings on the challenges and I couldn’t figure out why. Then I opened the folder, saw her name and realized I had been putting it off” —Danielle Battaglia of The News & Observer and Emily Featherston of WECT tell a story of love, loss and fidelity.

Speaking of what we’ve learned…

I asked two questions last week of a few folks who were involved in reporting the voting. A week ago I shared their thoughts on what the media should do now. This week, the second question: What should the NC media have done better? Here are their answers, edited for length:

Anoa Changa, attorney, electoral justice reporter for Prism, host of the podcast “The Way with Anoa” and host of Scalawag’s “As the South Votes” video series:

(Journalists should be) centering the needs and concerns of the communities (they) serve. Media can go a long way to debunking disinformation and helping to keep the electorate informed and engaged. I think NC media can just keep moving toward reclaiming space as the fourth estate and really prioritizing what’s good for democracy over everything else. 

Finally, having meaningful and representative coverage of the diverse groups and constituencies in NC is important. There has been some of this, but it can always be better.

Tazeen Dhanani, communications director, speaking for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice:

The media did a good job of setting expectations that results could take a while, not rushing to call anything and doing their best to explain the process of what was happening … 

Additionally, we are seeing a continued shift to people voting earlier and voting by mail – which the pandemic certainly influenced – especially in states like North Carolina. When it came to covering candidates and issues, a lot of news outlets still treated it like Election Day with candidate Q&As, specific issues, etc., running in the last few days before Nov. 3, but too late to really educate and inform the majority of voters. 

Cory Vaillancourt, reporter, Smoky Mountain News: 

The reporters I worked with all year long … went above and beyond the call of duty, literally putting themselves in the line of fire (virus, rubber bullets, right-wing anti-media conspiracy theorists) day after day…

It’s not about what North Carolina media should have done better — it’s about better support for independent media from the general public. Want more/better coverage? Support your local news media outlet. Want more misinformation, disinformation, foreign meddling, conspiracy theories, unfounded rumors and fear-mongering? Well, how’s that been working out for us all so far?

Lynn Bernstein, founder, Transparent Elections NC:

The news media should do more research into the public observation laws and ballot processing laws in North Carolina rather than just relying on county election directors. … 

As far as public observation goes, the election laws are really clear about this, but reporters did not let the public know what their rights were to observe…

“We’re still letting (politicians) set the terms of the narrative’ — Jordan Wilkie

Jordan Wilkie, elections integrity/open government reporter, Carolina Public Press:

We knew exactly what would happen post-election. We should have gotten our politicians on the record about understanding what would happen and when they’d have final answers, and had them tell us what they would do in such a situation.

 We did a terrible job of calling politicians out on lying, which they did with great frequency in their press releases. 

We also did a bad job of talking to our readers, understanding their needs and concerns, and bringing those directly to our politicians. We’re still letting (politicians) set the terms of the narrative, rather than allowing our readers to be the ones who set the news cycle and create the flow of information. 

Dawn B. Vaughan, government/politics reporter, The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun:

We have to cover the presidential candidate visits, but because there were so many of them, that took coverage time away from more issue-related and down-ballot races stories. Still, I think we all did a good job of making sure the best coverage of NC politics came from NC media.

Also in this week’s newsletter: good work from Mary C. Curtis, AVL Watchdog, Cardinal & Pine and The Daily Tar Heel, and a Q&A with WUNC’s Anita Rao. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.