The healthy function of a free society

Check out the full NC Local newsletter from September 7 for more from the Workshop, including industry news, job postings and shout-outs to journalists statewideSign up to get NC Local in your inbox every Wednesday.

By Eric Frederick, NC Local Newsletter Editor

Welcome back from Labor Day weekend. I hope you all got to rest and reflect.

I did reflect for a minute, on the privilege you grant me — of your valuable time each week. My mission, writing this newsletter for the NC Local News Workshop, is an extension of the Workshop’s endeavors: I hope to help connect all of you who, by informing people and empowering communities, make a free society more healthy — through your work in news, information, research, education, law, philanthropy, public responsibility, civic engagement, art, science, curation, storytelling… the list goes on. I try to make those connections by sharing others’ ideas and earned wisdom; letting you know about opportunities for growth, change, collaboration and sustainability; giving you something to think about now and then; and occasionally telling a story myself.

One of the fun bits is sharing just a little of the great work you’re doing. I don’t do it every week, but you folks are really on a roll lately…


👏 Here’s real impact: Last year, when The Assembly was a precocious toddler, my friend and former boss John Drescher (now its contributing editor) reported and wrote a piece 30 years after a chicken plant fire in Hamlet killed 25 people. He reported that federal agencies had neglected an agreement to have USDA report to OSHA when its food inspectors saw violations of workplace safety rules. Rep. David Price read Drescher’s report and pressured the agencies to act, and now they have approved a new agreement. It’s not every day that a single piece of journalism has the potential to save lives, but you could make that case here.

👏 As I read a story by Maydha Devarajan of the Chatham News + Record about partisan poll watchers, I pictured an “Only Murders in the Building” or CSI trope — the cork board with photos and scribbled notes and news clippings and push pins, all connected with string. Devarajan talked to a lot of people and educates us about several processes at polling places, including what poll observers are being trained to do, what some actually did during the primaries, and what they can and can’t legally do. But I was also struck by her very clear picture of the crossover among a group that recruits and trains poll watchers, a legislator-appointed commission that approves agency regulations, the state and national GOP, conservative activist groups, Trump lawyer Cleta Mitchell and assorted election deniers. We’ve talked a lot lately about the importance of educating voters about how the process actually works, and I walked away from this story a whole lot smarter: N.C. group connected to election deniers trains poll observers ahead of midterms.

‘When I got into bikes, I never thought I’d be able to do that — to be able to reach out to people and actually have a message that someone will actually listen to.’

👏 There’s the official story; there’s the reported story with a little more of the nuance, a few new truths … and then there’s the deeper story, the one where our proxy sticks around long enough to find the humanity in a hidden tale. Ryan Pitkin of Queen City Nerve got to that third place with the story of “Wheelie Boy” Richard Flood and his photographer friend, Ryan Allen — by doing a detour around a law enforcement narrative and reminding us that your “understanding” is only assumptions until you do some real listening: Backwheel Rich Breaks Silence After Police Crackdown on Wheelie Boys.

👏 Speaking of listening: Sarah Blake Morgan did a lot of it for a WBTV video and special report on people experiencing homelessness in Charlotte. Morgan really brings the facts and figures, and she reports clearly on the efforts at solutions, including housing vouchers and their limitations. But we stay with the story because she lets us hear people tell us, with gut-punching power and emotion, what the experience is like. We really get to know a resilient soul named Tanuu, and we’ll never forget Debbie, who escaped an abusive relationship, works all day and sleeps a few hours at night — on a porch, in a doorway behind a strip mall, wherever she can feel semi-safe. She’s looking for a second job, but it’s nearly impossible for her to put in the 90 hours a week that she’d need to work to afford a one-bedroom apartment in one of America’s fastest-growing cities.

Aside from Morgan, congratulations to producer Kate Reilly, photographer and editor Greg Simpson, drone operator Troy Bowlby, motion graphics artist Jon Wicker and the rest of the WBTV team. This one will affect you deeply: No Place to Call Home.

I stumble across a lot of terrific work that we can all learn something from, but I miss a lot, too. If you’re doing something that would be a good example for others to try, or you see someone else doing that, please let me know. My DMs are open, or you can email me if you prefer.

NC Local News Workshop