The former director of product engagement at McClatchy brings a wealth of media experience to the local news initiative focused on informing and educating North Carolina residents.
Following an expansive search, the North Carolina Local News Workshop has named Shannan Bowen its new executive director, overseeing the initiative’s objectives to better inform North Carolina residents on public affairs and civic issues, while supporting – and connecting – the state’s news organizations.
Funded by the NC Local News Lab Fund at the NC Community Foundation, the statewide initiative is housed at Elon University’s School of Communications. To learn more about the workshop and its activities and resources, visit www.ncnewsworks.org.
Having started her professional career as a reporter at the Wilmington StarNews, Bowen arrives well versed in North Carolina’s media landscape. For the past five years, she has worked in North Carolina with McClatchy, most recently serving as director of product engagement for the major U.S. media company. Bowen succeeds the workshop’s founding executive director, Melanie Sill, who has led the initiative since its June 2020 launch.
The workshop’s new executive director expressed excitement at the opportunity to apply her background in audience development and product strategy to help North Carolina’s news organizations meet the news and information needs of their audiences. Additionally, she said she wants to help state news outlets create sustainable business models that emphasize audience engagement.
“The common thread for my career path so far – from local news reporter to product strategy director – has been the focus on helping news organizations develop meaningful relationships with the communities they serve,” Bowen said. “I believe that local news is vital for community development, and I envision a North Carolina where communities have the news and information they need to become active participants in shaping the future of our state. And to achieve this, that means helping our existing and future news organizations forge deeper connections to their communities and create transformative approaches to serving them.”
She added, “I’ll be taking a product thinking approach to strengthening our state’s local news ecosystem, and ultimately that means putting people and their communities at the center of our work.”
“What excites us and should excite others who care about local news is that Shannan is ready to hit the ground running,” said Rochelle Ford, dean of Elon’s School of Communications. “Her mix of experience and passion will benefit both the news producers and news consumers in our state – and she arrives at an important time. In the past year, we have faced a pandemic, escalating police and community conflicts, and the prevalent threats to journalism and its news reporters. This makes what we do in the School of Communications and the NC Local News Workshop even more critical. Shannan’s addition reaffirms our commitment to supporting our state’s professional journalists and the communities they serve.”
During workshop’s executive director search, Sill said Bowen emerged due to her “front-line experience” and passion for local news, her understanding of the media landscape on the state and national levels, and her clear ideas about how to move the workshop forward.
“Shannan stood out in a strong field because she was tuned in to some of the opportunities and core challenges of local news, based on her past roles and experience, and also because she has a strong grounding and network in North Carolina already,” Sill said. “She was already doing things in support of other people working in local news in North Carolina and elsewhere, not just as part of her job description but as an ally and supporter of others.”
Sill called Bowen’s experience in media entrepreneurship, audience strategy, product development, and front-line journalism a “powerful combination.” She added, “Shannan also has held leadership roles in the past and knows how to bring people together to get things done.”
Having participated in the workshop’s inaugural year of programming, Bowen has a firm understanding of the initiatives’ objectives and the challenges North Carolina news outlets face. Bowen said those experiences – particularly the workshop’s virtual NC Local News Summit – left her “energized” and optimistic about future collaborations. Titled “The Power of Many,” the January summit convened more than 150 news innovators from across the state.
“It was so inspiring to see a diverse group of people from all types of news and information organizations discussing important topics like collaboration, DEI values and trust,” Bowen said. “Different ideas, challenges and opportunities were expressed, but everyone had a shared mission: to improve and strengthen the local news ecosystem in our state.”
Bowen commended Sill for her leadership and vision during the workshop’s first year, explaining that she laid the “groundwork” for the organization’s future success.
“I’ve long admired Melanie’s work in journalism and for our state, especially her ability to convene a diverse network of people from all types of media and academic organizations and her expertise in creating a collaborative approach to solving news ecosystem challenges. I’m excited to continue working with Melanie through this mission, as I know she remains committed to journalism in North Carolina.”
Bowen and Sill both agree that the state’s local news organizations face significant challenges, from advancing diversity, equality and inclusion initiatives to strengthening their business models. Most importantly, the workshop and its collaborators must ensure that the needs of communities are heard and met.
“My approach to tackling the challenges facing our different news outlets is to first listen to communities they serve,” Bowen said. “We first must understand the issues shaping our communities … in order to create programs that serve the workshop’s mission to support and strengthen our local news ecosystem. Gathering that insight is important as I create a roadmap for the workshop’s coming year, and that includes going from mission to vision and setting a north star for what we envision the workshop can achieve.”