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Some weed, and some feed


In the local news landscape in North Carolina, speaking metaphorically:

There are some “weeds growing up in the empty lots,” as Sarabeth Berman of the American Journalism Project says about the creep of disinformation. And there are partisan pitches masquerading as news. But here and there, an oasis is growing in a news desert — with some help from our community of purpose.
 
My final takeaways from speakers at the NC Local News Summit / The Power of Many
GETTING IN THE WEEDS

Philip Napoli, professor of public policy at the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy in the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, and Asa Royal, research associate at the center:
 
Napoli, who will become director of the DeWitt Wallace Center in July, for years has been researching the health and quality of local news beyond the metrics, in a qualitative way: Is this reporting really local? Is it original? Does it address community needs? Recently he and Royal have been digging into the rise of hyperpartisan sites in the guise of local news. You can read some of the findings in this Nieman Lab piece.

Royal and Napoli report that in North Carolina, an organization called Metric Media has 49 digital outlets, deployed all at once in 2018, with home pages that are nearly identical and with content that's often dated, much of which links to a single source called Old North News.

“They’re a combination of pay-for-play reporting, where political operatives will pay to place stories, and partisan reporting disguised as local reporting,” said Royal, who has looked into the sources of the content. The names of the sites are tied to localities, Royal said, but the “content they report is not really local — or news.” Most of it, Royal said, is computer-generated, and the few human journalists who contribute to the sites are from outside North Carolina.













(I took screen shots, above, on Tuesday morning, February 2, of the homepages of Onslow News and Cabarrus Today. You'd be forgiven for not knowing that the "hometowns" of these two Metric Media sites are more than 200 miles apart — or that both of the top two stories were written before last fall's election.)

You can learn more in Napoli’s and Royal’s presentation at the Local News Summit, beginning at 36:40 on the summit video.

Meanwhile, Napoli said he wants to help cultivate collaborations in the state’s news and information ecosystem:

‘I would really love … to make the DeWitt Wallace Center a research collaborator, a research resource, specifically on questions related to journalism within the state.’

If you want to work with the center, learn more about its research or discuss other topics, contact Napoli or Royal
   ➵ More on the network that includes Metric Media and on Brian Timpone, who's behind its rise, is in this report from The New York Times in October and this CJR piece from 2018 by freelance journalist Jeremy Borden, who's now based in Durham.

   ➵ Colin Campbell of the NC Insider looks at NC news sites funded by out-of-state political organizations (News & Observer subscriber-only link).

   ➵ Napoli and Royal on Monday published this take on advertisers' role in enabling disinformation.
BUILDING THE OASIS

Anika Anand, deputy director of LION Publishers:
 
Anand, who grew up in Kinston, brought the better news. She helps LION support independent digital news organizations, and in that role she also works with Google News Initiative to help local newsrooms get started, and with Tiny News Collective, a LION partnership with News Catalyst, to help launch sustainable local news outlets by supplying them with affordable resources and support. (More on that in my January 6 newsletter.)

LION, which has 17 members in North Carolina, is working on a database of all local independent news publishers in the United States and Canada as part of Project Oasis, working with the UNC Hussman School, the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media at UNC and Douglas K. Smith. It’s also creating a playbook for startups — collecting tools, tips, templates and other resources.

In a conversation with Melanie Sill, interim executive director of the NC Local News Workshop (at 1:40:25 on the summit video), Anand had this advice for startups:
  • Identify a problem you want to solve for the audience you want to reach.
  • Understand the challenges your potential audience faces as you develop a solution.
  • Start quickly — build a minimum viable product, get feedback, experiment and make changes. 
  • Connect with peers and share what you’re learning.
LION can also help existing newsrooms adopt new strategies, Anand said, if they're willing to rethink their "core hypotheses."
The resources, and a request 
 
➡️ Here’s the Big Resource Document from the summit, which was hosted by the NC Local News Workshop at Elon with support from the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media at UNC. It's a collection of links and resources from all of the speakers, presentations and breakout sessions.
➡️ I'd love to hear and share your thoughts — and also to hear about any initiatives you launch based on ideas, knowledge or resources you gained from the summit. My DMs are open, or you can email me.

News about the news


You’ve probably heard that DTH Media Corp., parent company of The Daily Tar Heel, has settled its lawsuit against the UNC System over allegations that the UNC Board of Governors violated the state Open Meetings Law when it made agreements with the North Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans regarding the disposition of the Silent Sam statue in November 2019. 

Along with the settlement, the DTH reports, it’s now clear that the BOG deliberately misled the public about board members’ role in the agreements as part of an effort to put the deals in a favorable light.

Holding public officials accountable. Score another one for student journalists. Speaking of which...
 
Taking up the challenge, again



The annual fundraising Rivalry Challenge between the UNC and Duke student newsrooms is well under way, leading up to the schools’ first meeting of the season on the hardwood Saturday. You can donate at one of these links to sustain and support the work of two outstanding student news organizations — The Chronicle or The Daily Tar Heel. And you can still sign up for an online trivia contest Thursday at 7 pm ET to benefit the effort. 
   ➵ Both of these newsrooms (and so many others on campuses throughout the state) deserve your generous support — and I, as your dispassionate reporter, will not take sides. I'm sure that whoever wins will be hailed as a priceless gem
And in other developments...

🔊 6AM City, the newsletter-first local media company that has Asheville (AVLtoday) and Raleigh (RALtoday) among its seven markets, all in the Southeast, says it plans to expand this year, beginning with NASHtoday in Nashville, TN, next month. Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Ryan Heafy says 6AM City is looking at more than a dozen potential markets and is launching a PickMyCity initiative (parties can pitch their interest at PickMyCity@6AMcity.com). The company also is hiring for 11 positions — five in editorial, four in sales and one each in branded content and client services — and Heafy tells me that any of the open positions could be based in Asheville or Raleigh. 

🔊 Scalawag, based in Durham, is one of eight initial partners in URL Media, a multi-platform network that will bring local news on Black and brown communities to national audiences. Founders S. Mitra Kalita, formerly of CNN, and Sara Lomax-Reese, of WURD radio in Philadelphia, want to support news produced for and with underrepresented communities by attracting major advertisers, sponsorships and syndication. (URL stands for Uplift, Respect and Love.)  

🔊 The annual North Carolina Press Association convention will be virtual this year, with the board meeting on Thursday, Feb. 25, and the main events on Feb. 26. Instead of the traditional awards banquet, an awards ceremony will be recorded in advance and released at 4:30 p.m. on the second day. Here’s the agenda.

Well done


Again this week, there's a lot of solid reporting on COVID-19 and the vaccines. These stories caught my eye:

👏 Hannah McClellan of the Chatham News + Record went around some bureaucratic secrecy to report on a stunning COVID outbreak at the Siler City Post Office — one that led to "mail collection boxes slammed full with uncollected mail and routes not being delivered," among other issues. 

👏 Words — and labels — matter. For instance, the difference between “independent living” and “assisted living,” though it can be pretty subtle in practice, is a regulatory distinction that can be fateful for residents during a pandemic. Jaymie Baxley of The Pilot explains as he brings some unsettling tales out of Gracious Retirement Living in Southern Pines. ... And a residential weight-loss center qualifies as a "congregate living facility," meaning those who pay for a month-long stay can also get the shots, Virginia Bridges and Adam Wagner report for The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun.

   ➵ The White House is now releasing the weekly COVID-19 State Profile Report, a dataset of key indicators down to county level. This is a rich, useful resource. You can download North Carolina’s report here each week. (H/T Tyler Dukes).
   ➵ First Draft has rolled out a Vaccine Insights Hub, with reporting guidance, trends and tips. And once more, here’s the toolkit to help local journalists cover the vaccine rollout from the National Association of Broadcasters, the Reynolds Journalism Institute and the National Association of Chain Drug Stores.

You're sorry. Now what?


The News & Observer in 2006, 108 years after the paper played a key role in the white supremacist coup and massacre of Black citizens in Wilmington, produced a 16-page history of the event and apologized for its part in it. This year, other news organizations — notably The Los Angeles Times and The Kansas City Star — have documented their institutional racism and apologized for it.

Well and good, says Alexandria Neason in CJR. But not enough. "To chart a new path forward, we will need much more than regret," she argues. [Read her take.] 
Also for your consideration

➡️ For local nonprofit news, 2020 was a very good year, and 2021 will be even better. Ren LaForme, Poynter.

➡️ A new chapter for the press: 5 ideas for moving forward after Trump. Tom Rosenstiel, API executive director.

➡️ Spurred by Black Lives Matter, Coverage of Police Violence Is Changing. Adeshina Emmanuel, Nieman Reports.
Bulletin board
 
Job posting
 
📌 Regional investigations editor, McClatchy; based in Charlotte or Raleigh.

Opportunities
 
📌 If you’d like to start a newsletter, or need help with one you already write (yeah, yeah ... I hear you), or just want to know why they're so successful — the Knight Center will conduct a monthlong MOOC that can help you start, expand or monetize one. It runs from February 22 to March 11. [Learn more and register.]

📌 The Institute for Emerging Issues at N.C. State University is holding a four-day virtual edition of its Emerging Issues Forum, called ReCONNECT for the Future,  February 15-18 to share ideas for North Carolinians to connect across lines of difference, especially involving community groups and local change. [Learn more and register.] 

📌 The yearlong Poynter-Koch Media and Journalism Fellowship, which begins in June, blends training, workshops, summits and cohort support with work experience (potentially a paid, full-time role at one of the participating news outlets). [Learn more and apply by February 26.]

📌 The Membership Puzzle Project, which ends in August, is accepting its final pitches for research projects that can increase our knowledge of how membership models can work for news organizations. [Get details.]

📌 The Committee to Protect Journalists, working with the News Leaders Association, has launched the U.S. Press Freedom Accountability Project, which will provide grants of $2,000 to $5,000 for newsrooms reporting on threats to journalists. Priority is on work that can be published in one to three months. [Apply.]

Free help
 
📌 The Gather community has started a useful spreadsheet listing upcoming journalism conferences, including application deadlines and links for details.
Farewell

Mike Yopp, a giant in more than one sense of the word, left us last week. He was 79.

Mike was one of the best of us — a superb journalist of intelligence, insight, concern for justice and scrupulous standards, and also great kindness and genuine empathy.

I was one of scores of young journalists who had the privilege of working for him when he was managing editor of The News & Observer in the 1990s. Mike always let us know when we came up short — reporters and editors scrambling to do a late revision used to say they "got Yopped" — but the deep humanity in him always winced a little, I think, when he did that. His final kindness to me, of many, was the advice and encouragement he lent when I joined him in 2019 as an adjunct in the UNC Hussman School, where he shared his wisdom until he finally put away his editor's pen at the end of last fall's virtual semester. Teaching at a distance just wasn't Mike.

A servant leader. We will miss him.
 
Photo: Mike with another of my favorite mentors — his wife, Jan. Thank you, Hanna Wondmagegn.
That's all for now. Thanks for being here, and I'll see you next week. Take care. 
Eric

 
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