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This week: Collaboration. (And a few other synchronic notes.)

Eric Frederick here, stepping into the full-size footwear of my great friends Melanie Sill and Ryan Tuck as editor of NC Local. I'm here to continue the conversation about what's happening in North Carolina's vibrant news and information community — to share ideas, make connections, help collaborations, offer resources, lift up solutions and celebrate great work.

I already know many of you. If I haven't had the privilege, feel free to introduce yourself and let me know what you'd like from the newsletter. You can reach me on Twitter (my DMs are open).

We're all interested in innovative ways you're serving your communities, keeping leaders honest and holding it all together. So please let me know what you're up to.

— Eric

Greater than the sum

You’ve surely heard about the statewide newsroom collaborative formed in March as a force multiplier for pandemic coverage. 

The group — WBTV, WUNC, WRAL, Carolina Public Press, The Charlotte Observer, The News & Observer and now WUNC — has worked together on 13 stories. Lawyer Mike Tadych also works closely with the group, said Robyn Tomlin, Southeast regional editor for McClatchy.

As with many great ideas, it began with a question.

“It actually started after one of my producers asked me ... how many people had been tested across North Carolina,” Nick Ochsner, chief investigative reporter at WBTV in Charlotte, told me. “At that point, it was so early that nobody was releasing numbers. ... I realized the answer to that question would involve calling 100 individual county health departments, which was a lot of work for me to do by myself.

"I knew Tyler Dukes (at WRAL) had led a statewide collaborative of media outlets over the past few years to do a project for Sunshine Day, so I called him. … From there, Tyler and I called many of the outlets that had participated in those Sunshine Day collaborations, and we got a group of six outlets together pretty quickly.”
The nuts and bolts
The collaborators set up a Slack workspace so they could talk continually. (They tried email at first “and it was honestly a nightmare,” said Kate Martin, CPP’s lead investigative reporter.) Channels in the workspace are devoted to topics they’re pursuing, she said. 

“We also hold a weekly Zoom meeting to discuss upcoming stories and other organizational issues,” Ochsner said, “and will jump on a call at other times as needed.”

Different reporters take the lead on each story — it was Ochsner on a report last week about the COVID-19 death of a nurse at Caswell Correctional Center, where on-site testing had been delayed. That story quickly prompted a call for action from state Senate leader Phil Berger.
“Sometimes (the lead reporters) are the ones with the original idea, or sometimes they are the ones with the most information or are further along with reporting,” Martin said.
From there, everyone pitches in with what she or he does best — doing research, locating sources, doing the interviews, making information requests, analyzing data, writing a clear and compelling narrative.

And here's a twist: Each story is “group-edited” by the members, a process that’s “amazing to watch,” Tomlin said. Editors in the group also “will give it a really close read,” Ochsner said.

The big picture
“So far, the biggest impact our reporting has had was probably the work we did on issues of transparency in COVID-19 cases” in care facilities, Ochsner said. That reporting, and pressure from several news organizations, prompted the state to start releasing information on outbreaks at congregate-living facilities. 
Advice for other newsrooms that want to collaborate?
“Check your ego and competitiveness at the door,” Ochsner said. “Our collaborative has worked because everyone’s opinion is given equal weight, and nobody hoards information.”
Martin echoed him, saying the members needed “to set our egos aside and learn to trust each other” — and keep a “community mindset.”
“The real question,” she said, “is this: How do we inform our communities best? There are stories we never would have told if we were all working individually.
“There are problems much bigger right now than worrying about sharing a byline.”

Weary of calling it “the collaborative,” I asked Ochsner whether the group had an actual, you know, name

“Almost!” he said. “We got to work so quickly, and worked so well together, that we formed a group without any of the structural framework to make this official… 

“Stay tuned.”

The blurbs

In case you missed this news, the Online News Association’s annual conference, originally scheduled for Atlanta, will be fully virtual this year. Here’s what to expect from ONA20...

Poynter has built a collection of information and resources for those interested in the local news landscape, called Locally, edited by Kristin Hare, who also writes the weekly Local Edition newsletter. The Locally hub has links to information on our “business in crisis,” and a running compilation of furloughs and layoffs — but also the hopeful and helpful stuff — funding opportunities, tips, training and tales of great work...

And from the NC Local News Workshop...
The NC Local News Intern Corps, a group of college journalists who will work under veteran editor Susan Ladd at the NC Local News Workshop at Elon University, will help North Carolina newsrooms in June and July by producing stories for digital, social media, print and broadcast outlets. Members of the cohort will be announced next week. If you’d like to know more about the corps, offer input and find out how you can work with these interns, register for a Zoom call next Wednesday, June 3, at 9 a.m.

Add to calendar

The deadline is approaching (June 15) to apply for the latest round of grants from the NC Local News Lab Fund, which will be distributed in August. Find more information here...

The ONA is accepting entries for the annual Online Journalism Awards; the deadline is June 4...

The Ida B. Wells Society for Investigative Reporting, in conjunction with the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, has reopened its search for a director. The application deadline is May 31... 
And also for the tickler file...
State and local governments have enacted several moratoriums and extensions related to the pandemic, on things such as tax returns, rental evictions and auto inspections. It’s a good service to keep track of their expiration dates and do the reporting that lets folks know they’re coming — and helps them prepare. 

For your consideration

IlluminatingLife disrupted: 24 hours of the coronavirus in North Carolina. By the staffs of The Charlotte Observer and The News & Observer, led by Martha Quillin and Théoden Janes

ImaginativeLocal newspapers are dying. Here’s how we can save them. A Los Angeles Times editorial.

InstructiveThe Road to Making Small-Town News More Inclusive. Ideas from the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism.

Inspiring: In Memphis, Journalism Can Still Bring Justice. An opinion piece by Margaret Renkl for The New York Times, about Wendy C. Thomas, a former assistant features editor and assistant metro editor at The Charlotte Observer, and MLK50.

Interesting: The answer to the media industry’s woes? Publicly owned newspapers. Victor Pickard of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication with a mini-lesson on a mostly forgotten chapter in the history of local journalism: the “municipal newspaper.”

And to close the loop on collaboration...

IncisiveNewsrooms are huddling for warmth and finding a way forward: Lessons from the Collaborative Journalism Summit. By Anna Pogarcic, the incoming EIC of The Daily Tar Heel, who gives me a lot of hope for the future. (You can pick up the materials and documentation from the summit, in case you missed it, at this Center for Cooperative Media site.

A farewell

Bre Bradham of The Chronicle offers a tribute to Karen Blumenthal, who died last week at 61. Blumenthal spent four years on the Chronicle staff as a student at Duke, and her year as EIC included coverage of the Klan shootings in Greensboro and the hiring of Mike Krzyzewski. Later she spent more than 20 years with The Wall Street Journal, was the business editor of The Dallas Morning News, wrote several books, taught journalism and was co-chair of The Chronicle’s board from 2007 to 2011.

Thanks for reading. See you next week.
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