If you missed our Aug. 12 training session with Melba Newsome, “Diversifying Your Sources,” you haven’t lost the opportunity to gain from this meaty session and from Newsome’s insights on how to report more inclusively.
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.
The NC Local News Workshop stands in support of Pulitzer-winning investigative reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones, who would bring valuable expertise back to our state as the new Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at the UNC Hussman School of Media and Journalism.
As an organization that supports high-quality local news for people in North Carolina, we celebrated the recent announcement of Hannah-Jones’ new role as a gain for journalistic excellence across the state. We work in partnership and alliance with the Hussman School and Dean Susan King, and appreciated the dean’s note that with Hannah-Jones’ appointment, ”one of the most respected investigative journalists in America will be working with our students on projects that will move their careers forward and ignite critically important conversations.”
Our own work has shown us that many NC journalists seek guidance and methods for reporting accurately and honestly on race and racism, and the appointment of one of the nation’s top journalists at our state’s flagship public university offers a resource for rigorous reporting in the public interest.
Thus, we are deeply concerned by reports that UNC leaders’ decision to withhold tenure in the appointment (breaking a precedent from two prior Knight chairs) may have been based on political opposition to the substance of Hannah-Jones’ journalism, in particular her pathbreaking role in leading the New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project.
An environment in which a respected educational institution retaliates against an accomplished journalist for political or ideological reasons would chill press freedom as well as academic freedom, and we share concerns raised by UNC Hussman faculty members and other current Knight chairs in recent letters.
Hannah-Jones, who began her professional career at The News & Observer and reported deeply on the Durham Public Schools, developed her reputation through continued exemplary journalism at The Oregonian, ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine.
Her work has been recognized with many of our nation’s top honors, including the Pulitzer Prize, a MacArthur Fellowship and election to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Her reporting has greatly expanded public knowledge and understanding of complex issues related to the historic and enduring roles of race and racism in our society. She has been honored by UNC-Chapel Hill as a distinguished alumna and as a member of the NC Media & Journalism Hall of Fame.
Hannah-Jones cares deeply about advancing journalistic excellence, and few reporters have contributed as generously to the betterment of the profession. She has championed investigative skill-building and professional development for journalists of color by co-founding the Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Journalism. She also has worked tirelessly to contribute to training and education for journalists through speeches, workshops, training sessions, mentoring and advocacy, including support for colleagues and students in North Carolina.
We support Nikole Hannah-Jones and endorse her tenured appointment on its merits.
The NC Local News Workshop, a nonprofit organization housed at the Elon University School of Communications, supports transformative approaches to journalism and civic information as a public service for all North Carolina residents. Learn more via our website or contact Melanie Sill, interim executive director.
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.
CPPjust 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:
We’ve added three programs to the NC Local News Workshop events and training calendar. All will be offered via Zoom and are free for participants, but registration is required. Check out the events pages (linked from event titles) and click the registration button to reserve your spot.
June 2, 11-noon: Census prep for NC media. A Zoom panel discussion and roundtable on the latest updates on Census data and what journalists and other stakeholders can do to prepare and report now. We’ll share resources and tips. Panelists will include Rebecca Tippett, director of Carolina Demography; Paul Overberg, data reporter at the Wall Street Journal and longtime Investigative Reporters and Editors member who has helped develop collaborative tools and training for Census coverage; Tyler Dukes, investigative and data reporter for The News & Observer; and Jason DeBruyn, WUNC data reporter. Register.
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.”
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, theAmerican Press Institute, to identify the most important parts of that “biggest challenge” and jumpstart some solutions we can share … and she needs your help.
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.
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 theNews Product Alliance.
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.
Nine months of intense conversation with media and thought leaders led toThe 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 hisintroductory 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:
[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: