Connecting North Carolina's news & information community
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Eric here again, teeing up this update on the NC Local News Workshop from Executive Director Shannan Bowen:

We're listening...

Greetings, NC Local readers!

“Wow, there are so many great people working in North Carolina!” I keep thinking about this comment from an out-of-state colleague during a conversation about my first few months as executive director of the NC Local News Workshop. I was describing to my colleague the new projects, businesses, roles and collaborations in news across our state.
I hear comments like this often. People outside North Carolina are truly impressed with the network of talented journalists and information providers and their dedication to informing their communities. Their work is being recognized nationally, too:
(More on the latter two from Eric, below.)

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t still work to do to strengthen the local news ecosystem in North Carolina. I recently marked the 90-day point of my new role with a presentation to the Workshop’s inaugural advisory board, to highlight the focus and vision of the Workshop. I was fortunate to have stepped into an organization with a clearly defined mission already established by founding executive director Melanie Sill.
The Workshop was established to connect people through partnerships and networking; to convene organizations to support inclusiveness, problem-solving, innovation and professional dialogue; and to build capacity through solution-oriented programs. What we need now is a North Star vision for the state’s news ecosystem, and a strategy for how the Workshop will position itself to meet its mission and achieve our vision.

As I told the inaugural board last week: The vision I’ve outlined is to support an ecosystem with sustainable and community-serving news and information organizations in all 100 counties. We envision a news and information ecosystem that is collaborative and equitably operating, too. But we can’t get there without listening to the communities that our news and information organizations serve. 

That’s why the Workshop’s primary focus through 2022 will be on community listening and engagement. Through our initiatives, we will seek to better understand the needs of our communities — defined demographically in addition to geographically — and help our communities form relationships with the news and information organizations serving them.

This focus is already taking shape in several ways. First, the NC Media Equity Project is hosting a statewide community listening event (virtually) next week, focusing on hearing news and information needs from communities of color and other groups that are traditionally underrepresented by news organizations. Though our Media Equity Project pilot cohort is wrapping up its program next month, we are committed to continuing this project in 2022.

Community listening also means listening to our journalists and others from news and information organizations. Together with Lizzy Hazeltine, coordinator of the NC Local News Lab Fund, I’m hosting two upcoming regional media roundtable events: a Wilmington-area Media Roundtable and a Western NC Media Roundtable, to start.

Also, I plan to host virtual networking and learning opportunities at least once a month. We’ll spotlight businesses or individuals and their work, or we’ll host a webinar on a professional topic of interest. Next week, you can join our lunchtime Zoom meetup with Kyle Villemain, founder and editor of the new digital magazine The Assembly.

There are even more opportunities for you to be involved with the Workshop and our future programs. Our inaugural, founding advisory board is ending its service, and I’m creating a shared board with the NC Local News Lab Fund. Calls for applications to serve on this board will open in early 2022, when we’ll share more details. In the meantime, I have created four committees to serve the Workshop and its work. They will give participants the opportunity to share their perspective and voice on specific topics and programming for the Workshop. The committees, outlined below, are expected to meet monthly as a group and communicate over Slack or email as the need arises. If you are interested in joining, please fill out this form.
Fundraising: Advises on fundraising strategies and scopes funding opportunities for Workshop programs.

Community: Creates opportunities to connect journalists and information providers across NC’s local news ecosystem through Slack, community listening sessions and other events.

Programming and Summit: Provides input and ideas for ongoing programming, such as monthly topic webinars or special events. Also assists in planning for an annual statewide summit.

Media Equity: Advises on programming for the NC Media Equity Project.
I’m excited about our focus and the year ahead. I’m also committed to practicing what I preach and meeting with communities across our state, including our journalists and information providers. Though the pandemic has affected my plans to travel and meet with organizations and communities in person, I’m meeting virtually with groups and individuals each day and also trying to create opportunities that are outdoors with masks encouraged. I’ve enjoyed my informal listening tour thus far, but I know there are many more organizations in our state that I’d like to visit virtually or safely in person. If you’d like to connect, please drop me a line.
Shannan Bowen
executive director, NC Local News Workshop

An empowering idea

Mountain Xpress in Asheville is one of 10 local news organizations selected to get funding from API’s Local News Ideas-to-Action Fund, which was set up to support accountability and government reporting that meets the needs of communities.

Funded projects are intended to be 12-week experiments in audience-centered journalism that can offer lessons for others and take on a life of their own. Mountain Xpress will create a people's guide to the process that governs land development in Asheville and Buncombe County, and the opportunities for public input along the way.

Assistant Editor Daniel Walton told me the idea arose from “spending a lot of time at local government meetings with a lot of frustrated people.”

“We've often seen large groups of citizens show up to Asheville City Council or the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners to share concerns about a project like a hotel or apartment complex,” he said, “after most of the details have been ironed out by other boards and commissions, and when the top officials are getting ready to issue a mostly formal sign-off.

“Residents leave feeling dejected and convinced that local government doesn't respond to their values, and that impression can keep them from civic participation in the future…
“Our hope is that, by helping readers understand the different steps of the development process and the opportunities for input at each level, they'll become more confident and effective at advocating for their visions of Western North Carolina.”

Well done

👏 The Elon News Network, The Chronicle at Duke and The Daily Tar Heel at UNC are among 31 newsrooms in North America named as finalists in the Online Pacemaker competition held by the Associated Collegiate Press. The Chronicle and the Pendulum at Elon are among 36 finalists in the print newspaper competition. Winners will be announced virtually at 6 p.m. ET Oct. 14, during the Fall National College Media Convention.
    ➵ ICYMI: I wrote a little about what all these folks are doing to fill news needs in their communities in last week's newsletter.

News about the news

🗞️ Alicia Benjamin, editor of Pride Magazine, which reports on business, lifestyles, uplifting stories and worthy causes for Charlotte’s African American community, has a new project. Benjamin has been chosen for the second cohort of the Google News Initiative Startups Boot Camp, which will help 24 founders start independent news businesses. Hers will be called Diaspora, a digital outlet “that will give marginalized people in Charlotte information on how they can become more actively engaged in the community to help make changes in the policies that affect their everyday lives.”

🗞️ Starting this Sunday, a “reimagined” News & Observer will bring more deep reporting, investigative work and news on technology, health, sports, food and previews of important happenings, adding 14 pages to the print editions each week on Sundays and Wednesdays. Managing Editor Sharif Durhams announced the changes, along with digital enhancements (including more QR codes in the paper to make additional digital content quickly accessible). Read more details here. In addition, a new service journalism team, led by Brooke Cain, will answer readers' questions and provide “useful and practical information” to the community.

🗞️ Lyndsey Gilpin, EIC of Southerly, based in Durham, has been chosen as one of four JSK Senior Community Impact Fellows in an experimental virtual fellowship cohort. JSK will provide coaching for the four as they work on projects they have already started to fill information gaps in communities. Gilpin was chosen as a JSK Community Impact Fellow last year. [Read more about the new program.]
Bulletin board

Job postings

📌 Director of development, Press On.
📌 Sports reporter, The Wilson Times.
📌 Western NC public service reporter (contract), Carolina Public Press.
📌 Publisher, Mitchell News-Journal, Spruce Pine.
📌 General assignment reporter, Washington (NC) Newsmedia.
📌 Regional reporter, Womack Publishing, Hillsborough.


📌 Only eight days remain for newsrooms to apply for the fifth cohort of the UNC-Knight Foundation Table Stakes Newsroom Initiative. There's no better program to help news orgs remake themselves as sustainable and vibrant in the digital age. (I know — I got to take part in the second cohort.) [Learn more and apply.]
   ➵ Small Publishers Have Longer Runway to Digital, but They Still Need to Take Off. By Mark Jacob, Local News Initiative, Medill School, Northwestern.

📌 As part of its Road to Pluralism project to help journalists build trust across political divides, Trusting News will host a conversation Sept. 30 at 2 p.m. ET on outreach and listening. [Learn more and join.]
   ➵ Read more about some research behind the project in my Aug. 18 newsletter.

📌 The first Military Veterans in Journalism gathering Oct. 21-22 will give journalists, newsroom leaders, and other supporters of newsroom diversity (you needn’t be a vet) a chance to connect, share and learn while supporting military veterans in the news business. [Learn more and sign up.]

📌 An API webinar Sept. 28 will help newsrooms develop strategies to retain subscribers. Audience executives at Newsday and the Spokesman-Review will share ways they have refined their retention strategies to reduce digital churn. It’s next Tuesday, Sept. 28, at 3 p.m. ET. [Learn more and register.]
For your consideration...
“The real myth of the ‘pipeline problem’ is that diversifying newsrooms is all about hiring. It’s not.”

Areeba Shah for Democracy Fund aimed this piece at journalism funders, but there's a lot for newsroom leaders to consider if they care about a persistent lack of diversity on their teams: How journalism leaders can move past the pipeline myth.
That's all for now. Thanks for being here, and I'll see you next week. Take care. 

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