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 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

NC Local for Feb. 24: News that ‘sets up camp’ in our minds

By Eric Frederick, NC Local newsletter editor

[Also in the Feb. 24 edition: A new WUNC podcast on poet, lawyer and justice warrior Pauli Murray; free hands-on data training; the legislative fight over public notices; a long list of jobs and learning opportunities; and the latest on media habits from Pew Research. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox each week]

I want to start this week with the good work because, although this isn’t unusual, there has been a whole lot of it lately: Reporting that holds power to account. Stories that tie the past to the present, and future. Unfinished business that needs our attention. Solutions to consider. Innovation. Challenges to our moral complacency. And many reminders of our shared humanity. It’s all there. 

First up: For most of the past year, several blocks just north of Uptown Charlotte were occupied by a tent city of people who had nowhere else to live — until the camp was cleared late last week by order of the Mecklenburg County health director because of a rodent infestation. Many residents were moved temporarily to a shelter motel.

The story brought out a wealth of useful, enlightening and heart-tugging work from the Charlotte-area journalism community. There has been much more than I can possibly mention here, but among the pieces I saw that stood out:

Read moreNC Local for Feb. 24: News that ‘sets up camp’ in our minds