NC Local News & Information Summit heads to NC Central’s campus March 8

With support from presenting sponsor Google News Initiative, the daylong conference will feature a keynote conversation between Sailor Jones (Common Cause North Carolina) and Cierra Hinton (Blue Engine Collaborative, Scalawag Magazine), touching on news, freedom of information, and rebuilding trust across North Carolina.

The 2024 North Carolina Local News & Information Summit will take place at North Carolina Central University on Friday, March 8, 2024.For a third consecutive year, news and information professionals dedicated to sustaining local news and open government in the Tar Heel state will gather at the North Carolina Local News & Information Summit. And for the first time, the summit will take place at North Carolina Central University on Friday, March 8.

Presented by the NC Local News Workshop and the NC Open Government Coalition, with presenting sponsor Google New Initiative, the daylong summit will be held at NC Central’s Alfonso Elder Student Union. It kicks off with a welcome, followed by the presentation of the NC Open Government Coalition’s annual Sunshine Awards. After that, attendees will enjoy a keynote fireside chat between Sailor Jones of Common Cause North Carolina and Cierra Hinton of Blue Engine and Scalawag Magazine, with PBS NC’s Deborah Holt Noel moderating the conversation.

While the summit is sold out, a waitlist is available.

Three headshots highlighting the NC Local News & Information Summit keynote event.
Cierra Hinton (left) and Sailor Jones (middle) will lead the summit’s keynote fireside chat, titled “Building a Fourth Branch: The Power of Information, Community and Trust in 2024.” The conversation will be moderated by PBS NC’s Deborah Holt Noel.

During their fireside chat, “Building a Fourth Branch: The Power of Information, Community and Trust in 2024,” Jones and Hinton will draw on their experiences as connectors and activators in news and public advocacy, sharing their visions for rebuilding trust across North Carolina. They will explain why we should be hopeful about ongoing efforts to sustain the free flow of information, access to government records, and a robust free press in the years to come.

“The keynote section of our agenda is intended to give space to big ideas, challenges and opportunities for local news in North Carolina and beyond,” said Shannan Bowen, executive director of the NC Local News Workshop. “This year we’re particularly worried about threats to democracy at the local level, most recently noticeable with public records exemptions for state legislators. We wanted our summit’s keynote to address threats to democracy, but also focus on visions for strengthening trust in our communities and efforts that give hope and a plan of action for anyone working in our ecosystem.”

Bowen added, “During a year in which polarization, misinformation and politics may take center stage in national media and other platforms, it will be refreshing to center voices of hope and inspiration from Cierra, Sailor and Deborah as they share what can be done to build trust and actively engage communities here at home.”

Brooks Fuller, director of the NC Open Government Coalition, echoed Bowen’s sentiments, noting Jones and Hinton’s extensive experience in North Carolina’s news and information landscape. And, most importantly, their conversation will provide insights and advice on how to best proceed.

“I think they can help people around our state think boldly about what it takes to sustain news and freedom of information in the years to come,” Fuller said. “They both, to quote Cierra, have an ‘undying love and passion for the complicated South’ and a deep and abiding commitment to people around the Tar Heel state. I suspect this will shine through in their message as they lay out some challenges and opportunities for better informing the people of North Carolina.”

A listing of summit sponsorships.Following the keynote conversation, the conference will shift to workshop sessions and discussions on topics including audience engagement, personal career growth, skills-building and tackling threats to democracy by championing transparency and open government.

“Our summit programming revolves around harnessing the power of networks and communities to reinvigorate news organizations and information leaders in light of some big changes to public records laws,” Fuller said. “We are focused on doing everything we can to shore up the news and information ecosystem against anti-democratic and anti-transparency policies.”

Both Fuller and Bowen pointed out that policy and legal work means little without strong newsrooms and information leaders. Their collective efforts aim to help build better networks, introduce journalists and government officials to new tools and practices, and help make the ecosystem stronger.

“I’m personally excited this year for some of the sessions that bring new ideas and focus for our news and information ecosystem,” Bowen said.

She then highlighted several summit speakers, including Anna Brugmann of Rebuild Local News, who will facilitate a working session on how public policy could potentially fund local news; Colleen Murphy of Open Campus, who will help participants create their own personal mission statement; and Hannah Raskin of The Food Section, who will discuss how food coverage can enhance media literacy. Additionally, Sarah Day Owen Wiskirchen of Minerva Media Co. and David Grant of Blue Engine will address how to create successful newsletters, sharing lessons publishers can apply.

Likewise, Fuller looks forward to hearing from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press team, which will lead sessions on supporting journalists covering the 2024 elections. Plus, Israel Balderas, assistant professor of journalism at Elon University, will discuss threats to the First Amendment during the coming election cycle, and Jenny Jacklin-Stratton of CatchLight and Andrea Bruce of Down in the County will co-led a workshop on using visual storytelling techniques to build audience engagement and trust.

“Every journalist in the state can benefit from being at this event, whether they’re a 30-year veteran or a student who just joined their school paper or news program.”

– Brooks Fuller, director of the NC Open Government Coalition

The year’s summit presenting sponsor is Google News initiative (GNI), which supports local news through resources, tools and programs. During the summit, Casey Pallenik, news industry relations manager at Google, will offer office hours with journalists, and Colleen Kimmett, Google News Lab Teach Fellow, will facilitate a workshop on election tools for journalists, focusing on tools that tackle misinformation and tips for utilizing AI-powered tools for reporting functions.

“Google is one of the most powerful and innovative tech companies the world has ever known,” Fuller said. “Being able to learn about tools and platforms they are developing to combat misinformation is such a great opportunity for the groups we serve.”

Bowen credits the Google News Initiative team for its hands-on support of journalists, which benefits both reporters and their readership.

“One of the main objectives of our annual statewide summit is to provide localized resources and workshops for people working here in our state’s news and information ecosystem, and we know many people will find value in the training and support that the GNI team will bring on March 8,” Bowen said.

Keynote Conversation Bios

Cierra Hinton headshotCierra Brown Hinton (she/her) serves as a creative strategist at Blue Engine Collaborative, concentrating on imagination, play and community in her work. Hinton is also executive director-publisher at Scalawag, a Southern, Black-led digital media organization. Scalawag delves deep into the intersections of culture, race, and systems of power and privilege. Before this, Hinton held positions as an individual giving officer at several education nonprofits, including Teach For America. Fundraising isn’t just a job for her; it’s a personal mission. Hinton is all about finding, gathering and distributing resources to communities that have been historically disenfranchised.

Sailor Jones headshotJackson Sailor Jones (he/him) is deputy director at Common Cause North Carolina, an organization dedicated to building a multi-racial democracy that’s inclusive of all in the Tar Heel state. Prior to joining Common Cause in 2022, Jones led Southern Coalition for Social Justice’s and Democracy North Carolina’s pro-voter communications, campaigns and advocacy efforts. Jones has more than a dozen years of experience in social justice spaces in the South, including roles with Equality NC, the League of Women Voters of NC, NARAL Pro Choice NC, NC AIDS Action Network, North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections, and the North Carolina NAACP. Sailor is a transgender native of Warren County in rural Northeastern North Carolina — birthplace of the nation’s environmental justice movement — a licensed attorney, and a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the North Carolina Central University School of Law.

Deborah Holt Noel headshotDeborah Holt Noel (she/her) is the host of “NC Weekend” and senior producer at PBS North Carolina. She has produced numerous PBS North Carolina projects and programs covering topics from arts and education to history and science, and she is the senior producer and host of the long-running public affairs series, “Black Issues Forum.” Noel is a graduate of Saint Augustine’s College (now University) and earned her Master of Arts degree from the University of Maryland at College Park. She is the granddaughter of Civil Rights pioneers Joseph and Elwyna Holt, the first family to challenge the segregated public school system. Noel produced the CINE Eagle award-winning historical 37-minute documentary, titled “Exhausted Remedies: The Joe Holt Story,” about her family’s pioneering effort to integrate Raleigh public schools.