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

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

John Drescher on Hussman and Hannah-Jones, and on objectivity: ‘Eventually I stopped using the word’

By Eric Frederick, NC Local newsletter editor

John Drescher
Drescher

John Drescher stoked a lot of conversations among journalists and educators nationwide last week when he broke the story for The Assembly that Walter Hussman, the top donor and namesake of the school of journalism and media at UNC-Chapel Hill, had expressed his concerns to university administrators and at least one trustee about the school’s potential hiring of Nikole Hannah-Jones.

Drescher has had a long and distinguished career in journalism in these parts, including stints as a reporter at The News & Observer, a reporter and editor at The Charlotte Observer and managing editor of The State in Columbia. Starting in 2002, he served for five years as the managing editor and a decade as executive editor of The N&O. (I seem to remember that he was also the interim publisher there for a minute.)

He recently spent two years as an editor on the politics, investigations and enterprise team at The Washington Post. Back home now, he’s helping The Assembly, the statewide digital magazine that launched this year, as a contributing editor.

Drescher was my direct boss for more than a decade at The News & Observer. I caught up with him Tuesday to talk about the Hussman story, the state of play at UNC now, what “objectivity” in journalism really means, his new work and the future of local journalism in North Carolina.

What can you tell us about how you got the story?

You know, I just got a tip. I had not heard anything about Walter Hussman’s involvement with the Nikole Hannah-Jones matter, and I just got a tip that said he indeed had been involved. And here’s the challenge … everybody these days is kind of not saying much, you know — it’s become perhaps the culture wars story of the moment. You can find people with strong opinions, but the people who actually are on the inside weren’t saying much.

Read moreJohn Drescher on Hussman and Hannah-Jones, and on objectivity: ‘Eventually I stopped using the word’

NC Local for May 19: Making impossible funding possible

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from May 19, including how key players from North Carolina (“the state of collaboration”) will show up at the Collaborative Journalism Summit from the Center for Cooperative Media, updates on state and federal legislation affecting the NC press, and a boatload of kudos and wards for NC journalism. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday. 

By Eric Frederick, NC Local newsletter editor

Read Local/ Support Local pitchIf you’re on a newsroom’s email list, you may have seen an invitation to support strong local journalism with a donation — like the one shown here, from Executive Editor Robyn Tomlin of The News & Observer. 

This one mentions an organization called Journalism Funding Partners — and the link will take you to a donation page that describes The N&O’s spring 2021 community giving campaign, organized by JFP.

Such community campaigns are the latest initiative by JFP, a 501(c)(3) launched to support local journalism by bridging the gap between funders and newsrooms in three key ways:

  • Enabling major gifts from large funders that might otherwise be impossible.
  • Enabling broad campaigns of donations from individuals, including those who want to make only deductible gifts.
  • Guiding and training newsrooms in effective fundraising.

Its board members include chair Orage Quarles III, former publisher of The N&O; Sharif Durhams, managing editor of The N&O and The Herald-Sun; and Anders Gyllenhaal, a former N&O executive editor and former news VP at McClatchy. Sean Malone, first president and CEO of Dorothea Dix Park Conservancy in Raleigh, is its interim executive director.

Malone calls JFP an “elegant solution to a pretty meaningful need.”

Read moreNC Local for May 19: Making impossible funding possible

NC Local for May 5: Back to the newsroom, and with a new theme — flexibility

CHarlotte Observer newsroom, pre-pandemic
The Charlotte Observer’s pre-pandemic newsroom, in the NASCAR building uptown

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from May 5, including details on a philanthropic buy of 20 Colorado newspapers, The Daily Tar Heel’s new general manager, resources and training for diversifying sourcing, a new partnership of digital outlets Southerly and Enlace Latino NC, and the Chatham News + Record’s new Spanish-language print edition of La Voz de Chatham. Sign up to get NC Local in your own inbox every Wednesday. 

By Eric Frederick, NC Local newsletter editor

For Reinstatement Day (which has turned out to be No-Reinstatement Day — sorry, Mr. Trump), I thought I’d check in on the status of another momentous restoration: North Carolina news staffs’ plans to return to physical newsrooms. When will reporters and editors gather again in front of a single desktop screen, and what will be different when they do?

I heard from five of those newsrooms. The theme: Flexibility.

◼️ The Charlotte Observer’s return will depend on community COVID conditions and state/local guidance, president and editor Sherry Chisenhall said. But there will be changes when it happens — including a yet-to-be-determined new location (The Observer gave up its newsroom in NASCAR Plaza downtown last year).

Read moreNC Local for May 5: Back to the newsroom, and with a new theme — flexibility

NC Local for April 28: Carolina Public Press at 10, ‘You just have to get bigger and better’

CPP's Angie Newsome
Carolina Public Press founder Angie Newsome, right, speaks at a forum on sexual assault prosecution following a CPP series, “Seeking Conviction,” which brought scrutiny and legislative action.

 

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from April 28, including WFAE’s “transformational grant” from the American Journalism Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones returns to North Carolina and UNC, new grants for NC orgs from the Facebook Accelerator Project and Report for America hires, much more. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox weekly.

By Eric Frederick, NC Local newsletter editor

Carolina Public Press, which began as Executive Director Angie Newsome’s dream for an independent, investigative, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization, is now celebrating 10 years in operation.

Newsome, a longtime journalist, launched CPP in 2011, covering Western North Carolina as a fiscally sponsored project of The Institute for Southern Studies. It officially became a donor-supported 501(c)(3) in April 2014, and has grown to a statewide news organization with a staff of nine, supplemented by regular contributors. 

In the past two years, CPP has won 25 N.C. Press Association awards, including two first-place honors for general excellence among online-only publications; top awards in public service, investigative and enterprise reporting; and the Henry L. Weathers Freedom of Information Award. 

CPP just launched a speakers’ bureau, making staffers available for virtual and in-person speaking engagements on topics of expertise. And at noon next Wednesday, May 5, it will hold the first of a virtual conversation series called Ten for NC, with Penny Abernathy as guest, discussing news deserts, what she sees happening in the state, and the role of nonprofit news in filling gaps. It’s free, but you need to register to attend.

I got to chat with Newsome this week about the journey. Here are the highlights of our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity:

Read moreNC Local for April 28: Carolina Public Press at 10, ‘You just have to get bigger and better’

NC Local for April 14: Newsrooms’ biggest challenge — and ways to tackle it (hint: Rethink, not just return)

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from April 14, including how to get support to attend the Collaborative Journalism Summit, shoutouts for WSOC’s housing series, a new local news website for Davidson County, a new website to guide news organizations on unpublishing content, and lots more about North Carolina’s vibrant local news ecosystem. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox weekly.

By Eric Frederick, NC Local newsletter editor

After more than a year of some of the worst gut punches ever to journalists, Jane Elizabeth says it’s “time to tackle the biggest challenge so far: rebuilding and reconceptualizing the local newsroom.”

Jane Elizabeth
Jane Elizabeth

Elizabeth was managing editor of The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun for 28 months of multiple crises — layoffs, a pandemic, new workflows, social upheaval, disinformation, attacks on the media, political turmoil, McClatchy’s bankruptcy — until she left last November. She’s now a media consultant working with a former employer, the American Press Institute, to identify the most important parts of that “biggest challenge” and jumpstart some solutions we can share … and she needs your help.

Read moreNC Local for April 14: Newsrooms’ biggest challenge — and ways to tackle it (hint: Rethink, not just return)

NC Local for April 7: ‘You don’t have to have a product title to be a product thinker’

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from April 7, with a deeper look at the NC Press Association’s support for more transparency in public employee personnel records, and the story behind Andrew Carter’s Roy Williams piece for The News & Observer. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox weekly.

By Eric Frederick, NC Local newsletter editor

Product thinkers are essential to building sustainable journalism. They bridge all of the working parts of a news organization — linking reader needs with the means to their fulfillment; connecting the ethics of good journalism with audience strategy, tech tools and smart business models.

Shannan Bowen
Bowen

Hundreds of the best product thinkers have founded a global community to share support, ideas and practice among the folks working to build a sustainable future for news. Shannan Bowen of Wilmington, who has been a reporter, editor and instructor and is one of the smartest strategists I know, is the director of product engagement and strategy at McClatchy. She was on the steering committee that founded the community, and I asked her to tell us more:

“You don’t have to have a product title to be a product thinker.” That’s the slogan a group of industry colleagues and I used for the past two years as we brainstormed, planned and created a professional association for people working in roles that shape our journalism products. The association, which launched with its inaugural summit last week, is called the News Product Alliance.

Read moreNC Local for April 7: ‘You don’t have to have a product title to be a product thinker’

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