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 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 March 17: Project Oasis and local news startup success

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from March 17, including links to coverage of online abuse of women in journalism (and resourcesfor combating such hostility), good work from WSOC-TV’s Joe Bruno, The N&O’s Andrew Carter, and The Daily Tar Heel, and some optimism about local news sustainability)

By Eric Frederick, NC Local newsletter editor

Project Oasis, which was launched a year ago, is live — and it’s a wellspring of help, information and insight for the local news business.

Oasis is a collaborative initiative to build a database of the more than 700 digital-dominant, independent local news outlets in the United States and Canada, to share insight about how they are working to be sustainable, and to share research on best practices. Partners are the Center for Innovation and Sustainability of Local Media at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media; LION Publishers; the Google News Initiative; and Douglas K. Smith.

First, there’s a database that includes a map and list of all 710 publications, compiled in the middle of 2020 from a survey and research at UNC. You can sort the map and list by things such as location (there are 24 outlets in North Carolina), platforms, revenue stream, tax status (LLC, nonprofiit, sole proprietor, etc.), years in operation and editorial strategy. Each publication also has a profile.

The project also produced the GNI Startups Playbook for news entrepreneurs, with valuable guidance on building a product, finding and expanding an audience, identifying initial sources of funding and revenue, and setting up operations, including templates and a large list of resources. It was written by Ben DeJarnette of LION, with contributors Anika Anand (a LION deputy director and a UNC grad who grew up in Kinston); Conor Crowley of GNI; Phillip Smith of Journalism Growth Lab; and Smith.

And there’s a report that tracks trends in digital-native local news, written by Chloe Kizer, a Durham operations and growth consultant working with the UNC Hussman School. Among its key findings:

Read moreNC Local for March 17: Project Oasis and local news startup success

NC Local for Feb. 3: The crabgrass, and the palm trees, in our back yard

By Eric Frederick, NC Local newsletter editor

[Also in the Feb. 3 edition: NCPA conference agenda, remembering editor and mentor Mike Yopp, journalism shoutouts, jobs and opportunities; DTH prevails in UNC suit and reveals misleading communication in Silent Sam legal settlement. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox each week]

In the local news landscape in North Carolina, speaking metaphorically:

There are some “weeds growing up in the empty lots,” as Sarabeth Berman of the American Journalism Project says about the creep of disinformation. And there are partisan pitches masquerading as news. But here and there, an oasis is growing in a news desert — with some help from our community of purpose.

My final takeaways from speakers at the NC Local News Summit / The Power of Many

GETTING IN THE WEEDS

Philip Napoli, professor of public policy at the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy in the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, and Asa Royal, research associate at the center:

Napoli, who will become director of the DeWitt Wallace Center in July, for years has been researching the health and quality of local news beyond the metrics, in a qualitative way: Is this reporting really local? Is it original? Does it address community needs? Recently he and Royal have been digging into the rise of hyperpartisan sites in the guise of local news. You can read some of the findings in this Nieman Lab piece.

Royal and Napoli report that in North Carolina, an organization called Metric Media has 49 digital outlets, deployed all at once in 2018, with home pages that are nearly identical and with content that’s often dated, much of which links to a single source called Old North News.

Read moreNC Local for Feb. 3: The crabgrass, and the palm trees, in our back yard

NC Local for Jan. 27: Survive and advance

By Eric Frederick, NC Local newsletter editor

[Also in the Jan. 20 edition: Postal service worries for community newspapers, six NC media orgs join the NC Media Equity Project, a new director for Duke’s DeWitt Wallace Center, and a raft of job and grant) opportunities. Sign up to get NC Local in your inbox each week]

One theme of the conversation at the NC Local News Summit on Jan. 13 was Brothers Gibb basic: Stayin’ alive. Fran Scarlett of INN summed it up: Journalism is the mission, but “you have to be sustainable to get to do the journalism.”

The good news: Resources are out there to help. Below are my takeaways from two more of the speakers at the summit (the full event video is here):

DIVERSITY IN EVERYTHING (INCLUDING FUNDING)

Fran Scarlett, chief knowledge officer and business strategy coach at the Institute for Nonprofit News:

Scarlett’s mission from her base in Wilmington is to move us away from thinking only about the journalism and to get us to think about survival as well. She sees news nonprofits diversifying their sustenance with “earned revenue” — sponsorships, advertising and events — and becoming less dependent on foundations. She sees collaborations growing not just in news but in fundraising. And she sees newsrooms moving beyond the idea that hiring is the only place to think about diversity.

Read moreNC Local for Jan. 27: Survive and advance