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‘You don't have to have a product title’

Product thinkers are essential to building sustainable journalism. They bridge all of the working parts of a news organization — linking reader needs with the means to their fulfillment; connecting the ethics of good journalism with audience strategy, tech tools and smart business models.

Hundreds of the best product thinkers have founded a global community to share support, ideas and practice among the folks working to build a sustainable future for news. Shannan Bowen of Wilmington, who has been a reporter, editor and instructor and is one of the smartest strategists I know, is the director of product engagement and strategy at McClatchy. She was on the steering committee that founded the community, and I asked her to tell us more:
“You don’t have to have a product title to be a product thinker.” That's the slogan a group of industry colleagues and I used for the past two years as we brainstormed, planned and created a professional association for people working in roles that shape our journalism products. The association, which launched with its inaugural summit last week, is called the News Product Alliance.

As part of the founding steering committee, I worked alongside product thinkers from small and large organizations, international organizations and universities. Our site describes the News Product Alliance best: “Our mission is to elevate the discipline of news product management and expand the diversity of news product thinkers in decision-making roles. We believe news product thinkers — those with the ability to strategically align business, audience and technology goals while integrating journalism ethics — are key to building sustainable and ethical news organizations.”

Product roles, with or without the word "product" in their title, are emerging in newsrooms or in other divisions of news organizations as the strategic force for developing products or initiatives that serve readers while delivering value to the organization’s business model. "Product thinking" isn’t just a term embraced by large, national news organizations. It’s a way of thinking that can help organizations of any type in North Carolina’s news ecosystem, from corporate-owned organizations that might have a formal product team to a news startup where journalists wear multiple hats to deliver news and information valued by their audiences.

If you’ve been looking for this kind of network with people doing similar work, or if you’re just curious about product strategy, this community is for you. I’d love to see more North Carolinians join NPA to find support to accelerate the digital transformation of news organizations here in our state while also gaining individual career skills.

The News Product Alliance aims to be an inclusive community, with members from across the world and any level of career, from students to executives. A membership program will be announced soon, featuring access to a robust Slack community, events and other programming. For more information, please join our email list and follow @NewsProduct on Twitter. Any product thinker is welcome—even if you don’t have “product” in your title.
You can learn more and sign up to participate at the NPA website.
    ➵ Why I quit my job to launch the News Product Alliance. Becca Aaronson, NPA interim president, formerly with Chalkbeat and The Texas Tribune.

A guide to diverse sourcing

Independent journalist Melba Newsome of Charlotte has released a guide, 10 Steps to More Inclusive Reporting, as part of her project as a 2020-2021 Reynolds Journalism Institute fellow. It includes tips for:
  • Finding diverse sources.
  • Building your own source database.
  • Tracking the diversity of your sources.
  • Reporting in communities that might not reflect you or your newsroom.
  • Overcoming objections from sources you want to cultivate.
Newsome’s fellowship was devoted to creating a training program to help newsrooms better represent their communities in their reporting, and the guide is part of that work. Her media partners in that research are WFAE, The Charlotte Observer and North Carolina Health News.

    ➵ Read my conversation with Newsome about this work in my Feb. 17 newsletter.
    ➵ Help Chalkbeat, in partnership with RJI, build a replicable system for source diversity tracking.

‘I wanted that scene’

Andrew Carter of The News & Observer is a good writer because he’s a good reporter — the more of the story you know, the better the story you tell. For his story about UNC men’s basketball coach Roy Williams and what makes him tick, published the day after Williams retired last Thursday, Carter used all the tools: the instinct to know where to be, the keen eye and ear, the institutional memory for those illuminating moments, the knowledge of the man's retinue, the feel for the right questions. 

I not only appreciated the story, I was curious about the process  — how he turned it quickly, how long he'd been gathering string, how he decided whom to talk with, where he got this, how he got that. So I asked him.

“It helped that I’d covered UNC and Roy for six seasons,” Carter told me. “When he passed Dean Smith in wins during the 2019-20 season, I went up to Black Mountain and spent some time with a lot of people he knew and worked with during his first coaching job, which was at Owen High School. Knowing those folks also proved invaluable. 

“I didn’t really have any string gathered when the retirement announcement came. I was stunned, like a lot of people. I immediately thought, though, that contextualizing his roots and journey would be a big part of the story I wanted to tell.

"So I started working the phones, trying to reach people from his past. Went to the presser, and waited for him to walk out of the building because I wanted that scene in the story. Then went home and wrote all night, and finished the story in the morning.”

When the word came last Thursday that Williams was retiring, some newsroom leaders at The Daily Tar Heel — EIC Anna Pogarcic, managing editor Brandon Standley and sports editor Zachary Crain — quickly hopped on a Zoom call to brainstorm a commemorative section. McKenna Claffey, the student advertising manager, coordinated outreach to local advertisers. The result, which came out the next day, was an impressive 20-page keepsake you can order online or pick up at the DTH office during business hours.
Also well done

👏 Here's a fantastic idea: QCity Metro and the Charlotte Ledger exchanged stories for their morning newsletters on Tuesday. Ledger readers got a story by QCity Metro's Katrina Louis, and readers of QCity Metro's Morning Brew got a story from Ledger executive editor and founder Tony Mecia. Readers of each newsletter also got an invitation to subscribe to the other. Great stuff. 

👏 Dryden Quigley of the 9th Street Journal, which is published by students in the DeWitt Wallace Center at Duke, has won the 2021 Frank Barrows Award for Excellence in Student Journalism from the NC Open Government Coalition. Quigley won for her use of public records to uncover the story of Darrell Kersey, who died after contracting COVID-19 while being detained at the Durham County Detention Facility. His identity had not been revealed by the state or the Durham sheriff's office because of a technicality.

👏 Two-thirds of the people incarcerated in the Bladen County jail are federal detainees the county holds for the U.S. Marshals Service, for the money — nearly $2 million in about 15 months. “It brings revenue into the county, and that’s why we’re doing this,” the sheriff tells Jordan Wilkie, who came across the story while reporting on the jail’s infectious disease protocols for Carolina Public Press.

👏 Did you know that "meme heroes" sometimes swap stories of their accidental fame? I didn’t. Thanks, Josh Shaffer of The N&O/Herald-Sun, for this entertaining tale of how Zoe Roth, from Alamance County, has grown up as “Disaster Girl.” She's now a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill — and you'll love finding out what her major is.

The Government Transparency Act
The North Carolina Press Association and the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters have strongly endorsed the proposed Government Transparency Act of 2021 – Senate Bill 355 in the North Carolina legislature – which aims to increase public access to personnel records of state and local employees, including records of their hiring, discipline, suspension, demotion, firing and performance. (You can follow its status here.) North Carolina law trails many other states in granting access to the job records of people who are paid with taxpayers’ money.

“We are asking for full support in your upcoming editions and through your social media channels in coverage on this monumental bill,” NCPA Executive Director Phil Lucey said in an email. “This bill is receiving a lot of legislative support and should be noted in your stories — a thank you for a step toward transparency and for those legislators and leadership willing to stand up for the public's right to know.”

Lucey offers these bullet points to consider with coverage:
  • The filing of SB 355 by Senators Rabon, Sanderson and Krawiec stands to make history in North Carolina as the first effort by General Assembly leadership to allow the public meaningful access to state and local government personnel records.
  • The bill would open the door slightly to allow the public a glimpse of records not currently accessible under NC public records law, requiring every state and local government employer to tell the public not only when a government employee is disciplined, suspended, demoted, promoted or separated from the job, but why that action was taken.
  • The public has a right to know this information about government employees, all of whom work for the taxpaying public, similar to the way this information is routinely made available to the public in the vast majority of other states.
  • The bill would allow first-ever public access to records in NC concerning every level of state and local government employee, from teachers to law enforcement officers.
More news about the news

New York Times columnist and author Frank Bruni on July 1 will join the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy at Duke as one of two Eugene C. Patterson professors of the practice for journalism and public policy.

The DeWitt Wallace Center is the journalism education hub at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy. Bruni, a UNC-Chapel Hill grad, “will bring our students new perspectives in several key focus areas, including politics, education and social topics,” Sanford School Dean Judith Kelley said in the center’s announcement. A second Patterson professor will be named soon, the center said ... 

Longtime News & Observer reporter and editor Steve Riley is retiring as executive editor of the Houston Chronicle, where he went in November 2017 as senior editor for investigations before taking over the whole shop soon after. He'll be kicking back with his family at their home near Black Mountain as soon as the Chronicle finds a successor. Well done and welcome home, my friend.

* I'm an old sports editor.
In more news...

🗞️ Enlace Latino NC, based in Durham, is among 10 news businesses selected from about 150 applicants for the GNI Startups Lab's first cohort. The lab is a six-month program to help news outlets build sustainability through coaching and capital. Enlace, led by Paola Jaramillo and Walter Gómez, serves Latinx communities in North Carolina with independent, public service journalism. Lizzy Hazeltine of the NC Local News Lab Fund is one of the cohort's coaches.

🗞️ Two years after founding Raleigh Convergence, Sarah Day Owen Wiskirchen is launching another new feature on the platform — an idea for community collaboration “on issues of local impact and creative themes that bring together diverse perspectives and explanatory content.” It’s called Converging Topics. [Find out more.]

🗞️ McClatchy’s North Carolina editorial board has its first Community Advisory Board. The four members (meet them here) “will broaden our insight and bring diverse voices to the conversations we have about issues and topics,” Peter St. Onge, McClatchy’s new opinion editor, wrote in a post on McClatchy’s Medium site. St. Onge has been the company’s North Carolina opinion editor for nearly two years, and before that he was an associate editor at The Charlotte Observer. He adds that each McClatchy opinion team in the country will have such a board by the end of the year, and he posts five guiding principles for the work of those opinion teams.
   ➵ Here’s an API guide to forming a community advisory board for your newsroom.
   ➵ ICYMI: Editorial boards that look nothing like their cities shouldn’t speak for them. By Gabe Schneider, co-founder of The Objective.

🗞️ The Google News Initiative will give $200,000 to start the Tiny News Collective Launch Fund as further support for the first cohort of startup newsrooms in the Tiny News program. Applications for that first cohort are due Sunday (April 11).
   ➵ More on the Tiny News Collective is in my Jan. 6 newsletter.

Bulletin board

Job postings
📌 Lead reporter, The Border Belt Independent.
📌 Morning reporter (temporary), WUNC.
📌 News editor, Mountaineer Publishing.
   ➵ Bookmark this: More than 25 places to find journalism jobs and internships. Compiled by Taylor Blatchford, Poynter.
📌 Scalawag's Cierra Hinton is a panelist for a discussion of movement journalism as one of four sessions in a Zoom event, Engagement Journalism at the Newmark J-School, this Friday, April 9, starting at noon ET. You can register for the series or for individual events. [Learn more and sign up.]

📌 API and the News Leaders Association will host a discussion of strategies and tools for covering misinformation, April 16 at noon ET. [Learn more and register.]

📌 The National Science-Health-Environment Reporting Fellowships program helps early-career journalists who are interested in careers reporting on science, health and the environment. The yearlong program offers workshops, webinars, resources, a reporting boot camp, conference registrations and mentoring. [Apply by May 10.]

Free help
📌 INN has published the first in a series of case studies that share some steps its members have taken to address DEI in staffing and coverage.

For your consideration...

➡️ Remember when many newspapers had public editors, advocating for readers and for good journalism? Tauhid Chappell, project manager for the News Voices project at Free Press, argues they’d be useful again — in the DEI fight.
That's all for now. Thanks for being here, and I'll see you next week. Take care. 

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