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

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?

Miss the Summit? Watch the video for speakers and breakout highlights

We’ve posted the video of the opening two-hour session of the NC Local News Summit, a virtual event on Wednesday that drew about 150 people together via Zoom.

The video features our speakers (in order of appearance), and reports back from each of the breakout sessions.

  • “The NC Local News Workshop and the Power of Many” — Melanie Sill, interim executive director, NC Local News Workshop
  • “The Power of Diverse Collaborations” — Ju-Don Marshall, WFAE chief content officer and executive vice president
  • What we’re learning about nonprofit news success — Fran Scarlett, Institute for Nonprofit News chief knowledge officer and business strategy coach, in conversation with Melanie Sill
  • “Local News and Local News Research (including the growth of partisan ‘pink slime’ sites”) — Philip Napoli, Duke Sanford School of Public Policy professor and journalism researcher, with research assistant Asa Royal
  • Local news philanthropy: “Renewed Urgency and Glimmers of Hope,” Lizzy Hazeltine, fund coordinator for the NC Local News Lab Fund
  • “Abolishing the Fourth Estate: What’s possible when we remember we are members of our communities” — Cierra Hinton, co-director of strategy and operations for Press On, publisher and executive director, Scalawag magazine
  • “Transforming the Community Newspaper” — Les High, publisher of the Whiteville News Reporter
  • “A New Push on Local News Entrepreneurship ” — Anika Anand, deputy director of LION Publishers, in conversation with Melanie Sill

Also, Cierra Hinton of Press On Media and Scalawag has turned her Summit talk into a piece for Scalawag. In the piece, Hinton describes a “disconnect between the press, the people, the news, and the communities we report on” and argues that journalists “need to cover people-power like it is the power that drives our democracy—because it is.”

In the context of political violence in Washington, she writes: “When we fail to name whiteness in our reporting we are at best complicit in the active practice of white supremacy, and at worst, we are upholding the spread of values that lead to events like those that took place.”

Check back next week for more materials and takeaways from the NC Local News Summit.