A crisis in Blue Heaven

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from Oct. 13 for more on this story and to see accolades for journalists throughout the state, explore recent news about the news industry, discover the latest job opportunities and more. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

Screenshot of Twitter post about UNC Chapel HillAs I’m sure you know, there have been four suicide attempts, three ending in death, at UNC-Chapel Hill in five weeks. Two of those attempts came last weekend.

As on campuses everywhere, the usual pressures for young adults — a new environment, the stress of sudden independence and a lack of structure, the end of relationships, academic missteps, financial worries, changes in sleep and diet, substance challenges — have been compounded by a pandemic, remote learning, reckonings around race and identity, and more. There’s a mental health crisis in Blue Heaven.  

UNC canceled Tuesday classes and called for a wellness day. 

And the students on the staff of The Daily Tar Heel, in addition to living all of those stresses every day, have had to report on their sometimes tragic effects. On Sunday, the DTH announced it would operate on a reduced schedule this week “to allow our staff time to rest and to prioritize their mental health.”

For that very reason, I didn’t want to intrude — but I did reach out to Editor-In-Chief Praveena Somasundaram and General Manager Courtney Mitchell to express support, and I asked about the core principles in the DTH coverage of the human tragedies. I’m beyond grateful for the grace they showed me. Here’s what Somasundaram told me, by email:

Read moreA crisis in Blue Heaven

‘Climate change is a local story’

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from Oct. 6 for more on this story and also explore recent news about the news industry throughout the state, join us in recognizing North Carolina journalists, discover the latest job opportunities and more. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

David Boraks“I’m realizing that climate change stories are not separate,” David Boraks told me this week. “Everything is a climate story. Everything we do that affects the environment is a climate story.”

North Carolina newsrooms are also realizing that covering climate now means dedicating real resources to the task.

Boraks, at WFAE in Charlotte, is one of three reporters at legacy news organizations in North Carolina who now have a full-time climate beat funded by philanthropy. (There were none a year ago; there will be four soon when the Winston-Salem Journal hires one.)

Boraks was already reporting on environmental issues when he assumed the full-time climate beat this summer, funded by the Salamander and 1Earth funds. Adam Wagner reports on climate change and the environment for the state’s McClatchy newsrooms, financed by 1Earth Fund in partnership with Journalism Funding Partners. Gareth McGrath, based in Wilmington, covers the same topics for the Star News and the USA TODAY network in the state, in a position financed by ​​1Earth Fund and The Prentice Foundation. The Journal position, which will support all of the Lee newsrooms in the state, will be funded through an agreement with JFP, as I reported here last week. In each case, the newsrooms have full editorial control over the reporting.

Read more‘Climate change is a local story’

To explain redistricting: A sound idea

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from Sept. 29 for more on this story, to learn more about NC Local News Workshop happenings, to explore headlines about the new industry throughout the state, to join us in recognizing journalists from throughout the state and more. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

Blessed are the state political reporters, for North Carolina may soon actually have a two-year budget. Then comes an even bigger task for the legislature, one that could determine the outlines of state spending (and policy) for a decade to come: Redistricting.

Tyler Dukes
Tyler Dukes

It’s obviously a crucial process, but as WUNC Capitol bureau chief Jeff Tiberii said, it “remains pretty wonky.” The challenge for news providers is to explain it so people understand how it works, and all the ways it affects their lives.

One way is the spoken word.

That comes naturally to a radio reporter like Tiberii, but others around the state also are finding that audio storytelling can help folks decipher the process. One is investigative reporter Tyler Dukes at The News & Observer. Last week Dukes dropped the first episode of a special, scripted presentation of The N&O’s Under the Dome podcast, called Monster: Maps, Math & Power in North Carolina.

(The title is, of course, a reference to the Gerrymander, a mythical beast that was born in Massachusetts in 1812 but has spawned many generations of offspring with tar on their amphibian heels.)

Being a data guy, Dukes opens by painting a mental picture of a truly astronomical number. Then he walks us through some surprising history featuring several voices familiar and not, and illustrates how technology has changed the process through the eyes of a high school kid. A couple of minutes in, I was hooked.

Read moreTo explain redistricting: A sound idea

We’re listening…

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from Sept. 22 for more on this story, to learn about good news for Mountain Xpress in Asheville, to join us in recognizing student journalism throughout the state and more. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

Greetings, NC Local readers!

Shannan Bowen

“Wow, there are so many great people working in North Carolina!” I keep thinking about this comment from an out-of-state colleague during a conversation about my first few months as executive director of the NC Local News Workshop. I was describing to my colleague the new projects, businesses, roles and collaborations in news across our state.

I hear comments like this often. People outside North Carolina are truly impressed with the network of talented journalists and information providers and their dedication to informing their communities. Their work is being recognized nationally, too:

(More on the latter two from Eric, below.)

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t still work to do to strengthen the local news ecosystem in North Carolina.

Read moreWe’re listening…

College journalists filling community gaps

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from Sept. 15 for more on this story and to read about The News & Observers newest editor, accolades for journalists across the state and more. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

When Poynter’s Kristen Hare wrote recently about places where college journalists were going off campus to help fill news and information gaps in nearby communities, I was reminded of similar things happening here in North Carolina. 

I reached out to more than a dozen places in the state where college students are helping to inform communities off campus, and I heard back from several of them. Here’s what they’re up to:

Queens University

The Queens University News Service was created by former Charlotte Observer editor Rick Thames, visiting professor and executive in residence in the Knight

School of Communication at Queens, and Bob Page, the school’s director of digital projects and advisor to student media. It is aligned with the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative, a partnership of 10 news and information outlets in the area.

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Let’s talk about relationships

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from Sept. 1 for more on this report, to learn more about the NC Local News Workshop on the road to meet news organizations across the state, for a glimpse into timely books by journalists with deep North Carolina ties, the journalist accolades and more. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

Eric here. If you haven’t read the Nieman Lab piece by Durham’s John Zhu on the usefulness of local reporting on schools (particularly coverage by The News & Observer), it’s here. It was adapted from a post on his blog, Palette.

I’d say he sums up his critique of common news philosophy when he writes that “covering school board meetings doesn’t serve the community if you

John Zhu
John Zhu

are not actually covering the things that the community wants and needs to know about its schools.” In his case, that mostly means reporting on schools’ specific measures to protect their charges from COVID. His was a call for less reactive reporting and for more proactive coverage — answering readers’ questions on unresolved issues, holding leaders’ feet to the fire. 

(Before we go further: As many of you know, I spent more than three decades in the N&O newsroom, ending in February 2019.)

Zhu, a communications professional, was a sports correspondent in Durham for three years before working for several years in design and editing on the sports desks of The Herald-Sun and The State in Columbia.

He says his critique could apply to the state of local news almost anywhere.

Read moreLet’s talk about relationships

Census and redistricting: Help is here 

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from August 11, which includes a last call to sign up for our free, one-hour Diversifying Your Sources workshop on Aug. 12 via Zoom with Melba Newsome, details about open positions at the News & Observer, more job postings on the Bulletin Board and information about available research funding from The Knight Foundation and other opportunities. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday. 

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

On Thursday at 1 p.m., local data from the 2020 Census will be released, which means we’ll be able to start deeply analyzing, understanding and reporting how the demographics of our state and our communities have changed since 2010.

It also means the legislature can officially start drawing up the state’s 14 U.S. House districts (one more than we have now), 50 state Senate districts and 120 state House districts. Legislators this week are settling on the rules for doing that.

Lots of resources are available to help journalists cover the rollout of the population numbers and the redistricting process, or simply to help people understand it.

Read moreCensus and redistricting: Help is here 

The beginning of an era

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from August 4, which explains how Elon’s School of Communications‘ is starting a free initiative to inspire high school students to explore careers in journalism, how you can sign up to attend our free, one-hour Diversifying Your Sources workshop on Aug. 12 via Zoom with Melba Newsome and how to determine the best source for the latest COVID-19 news. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday. 

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

When The News Reporter hit the streets in Whiteville last Friday, the Thompson-High family had owned the paper for 83 years. On Tuesday, the masthead had a new name on top. But it’s still in the family, so to speak.

image of a newspaper front page
Justin Smith, who has been editor of The News Reporter since 2018, is now the owner and publisher.

Justin Smith, who has been editor of The News Reporter since 2018, is now the owner and publisher, having bought the 125-year-old Columbus County institution from siblings Les High and Stuart High Rogers and keeping it in local hands — something that Les High, who had been the publisher, calls “critical.”

The News Reporter, of course, is best known outside the region for winning the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1953 along with the Tabor City Tribune for their stalwart reporting on the Klan. That was 15 years after the paper was bought by High and Rogers’ grandfather, Leslie S. Thompson, who passed the publisher’s role to his son-in-law, Jim High, in 1959. Jim High’s son, Les, succeeded him, and Rogers has been the director of special projects. Their family just won the Tom and Pat Gish Award for Courage, Tenacity and Integrity in Rural Journalism, as I reported last week.

Les High this year founded the Border Belt Reporting Center and in May launched the Border Belt Independent with a grant from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust. The Independent does in-depth coverage of key issues in Bladen, Columbus, Robeson and Scotland counties.

Read moreThe beginning of an era

Join the UNC public records project

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from July 21, which includes related news about McClathcy’s promotion of Robyn Tomlin, details about the latest podcast episodes from North Carolina journalists, reporting from throughout the state and more. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday. 

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

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