NC Local News Workshop founder Melanie Sill to be inducted into NC Media & Journalism Hall of Fame

By Catherine Komp, 

NC Local Newsletter Editor

Six years ago, award-winning journalist and news leader Melanie Sill saw a gap that needed to be filled in the news and information ecosystem: 

In NC, and nationally, local news is under tremendous pressure, yet the story is still being written. Our state has a wealth of great talent and brainpower in its newsrooms, universities, libraries and community organizations, and among its independent journalists and storytellers. Among those working on ways for local news to succeed I’ve heard some common refrains: We need to experiment and build new support structures, and we need to work together more than ever.”

Melanie wrote those words in the very first edition of NC Local back in April 2018, and outlined the goals of the newsletter: to highlight notable work, offer food for thought, share relevant and useful resources and act as a community connector and facilitator. She then expanded on that mission by co-founding the NC Local News Workshop in 2020, serving as its first executive director. 

As many of you know, Melanie’s impact is much broader than the Workshop and this newsletter, and her decades-long career in local journalism is being recognized by the NC Media & Journalism Hall of Fame

From Melanie’s early days at the Daily Tar Heel and Transylvania Times, to directing an N&O team that won a Pulitzer for Public Service, to serving in the top editorial roles at the N&O, the Sacramento Bee and Southern California’s LAist, Melanie has been a thoughtful journalist and leader; a champion of diversity, equity and inclusion; and an innovator in local news. 

“I can’t think of many other people who have done so much for North Carolina local news in so many different ways—and in such selfless ways. Melanie was instrumental in establishing the NC Local News Workshop and even started the NC Local newsletter before the Workshop was founded, establishing a point of connection for journalists all across the state,” said NC Local News Workshop Executive Director Shannan Bowen. “On a personal note, Melanie has been a mentor, supporter, advisor and friend to me over the past few years that I’ve been leading the Workshop. I’m grateful for her authentic style, thoughtful approach and empathetic demeanor. We are grateful that Melanie chose to continue to call NC home!”

Melanie continues to advise and consult with the Workshop in a volunteer capacity, including working closely with Shannan on development of the NC Local Hub.

I had the chance to chat with Melanie earlier this week about the news and share an edited version of our conversation below. But first, we wanted to also highlight the other 2024 inductees to the NC Media and Journalism Hall of Fame including Skip Forman, who has spent more than half a century working in news, including 43 years for the AP in North Carolina before joining HBCU Gameday and then taking his current role as regional sports editor for the News & Record of Greensboro and the Winston-Salem Journal.

Sports journalist Eric Montross who played nine seasons in the NBA and was the analyst on the Tar Heel Sports Network for 18 seasons, will be honored posthumously. Other inductees include National Geographic Photojournalist and Vital Impacts Founder Ami Vitale, FleishmanHillard Global Chief Operating Officer JJ Carter and the nearly 90-year-old, locally-owned Capitol Broadcasting Company, the parent company of WRAL.

Sponsored by the UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media, the annual awards began in 1981 to honor people with deep ties to the state who have made outstanding contributions in advertising, journalism, media or public relations. An awards celebration takes place April 19th.

NC Local: What were you feeling when you got the news?

Melanie Sill

Melanie Sill: I got the news from Rochelle Riley and Orage Quarles, from the selection committee, who called me and it’s just a delightful thing to learn. I was kind of overwhelmed, so I didn’t say much when they first told me. I felt very honored and also it brought on this flood of appreciation for all the great people I’ve gotten to know and work with over the years, including Orage, who was such a terrific publisher and boss and now a friend, and Rochelle, who I worked with on the Daily Tar Heel way back when. So the two of them at the very beginning and the sort of later stage of my career being the ones to tell me was really wonderful. 

When I was a young reporter, of course we thought people who got in the Hall of Fame were all ancient, but I never expected that to be me. So that feeling of gratitude for all the people who’ve made that possible, including people who worked side by side with me, people who I’ve managed and supervised, all of these people. I feel like I am at the front of a group with all these people kind of lifting me up and pushing me forward and that’s been the metaphor that’s kind of stuck with me is that, I’ve been lifted by a lot of people, and I really appreciate all of them. 

NC Local: I love that your Hall of Fame narrative includes a very full list of people who have mentored you and inspired you along the way. What lessons have you learned from them that you’ve carried with you through your career? 

You learn different things from different people. All of them had a belief in trying to do things at a very high level of excellence and they all shared a strong sense of personal ethics. I learned from several of them that working at the highest level doesn’t mean you have to do things like they’ve been done before and that having a vision and working toward that vision is a good thing. They embraced and supported and encouraged my ideas and the idea of doing things the way that you saw them. So I really appreciated that.

Judy Bolch is so creative, a terrific manager, great at executing. She had confidence that you could do things in a creative way and they were completely journalistic, that creativity and good journalism weren’t at odds. I learned so much from her. Judy is also the one who told me I should apply to be N&O managing editor, and I would never have thought of doing that. I certainly never thought about being executive editor. So at each stage I had mentors who said “you can do this, you can do this” and that helped me have the confidence to do it.

NC Local: You’ve seen a lot of change and you’ve played a role in a lot of change. Where do you hope local news and information is in five or ten years? What do you hope it looks like?

I’m comfortable with the idea that there are lots of different ways to provide service in a community and lots of different kinds of things that might be called local news. My hope for public interest news and information is that it continues to develop as a service to people. That is the key, to provide a service that people need and want, that they will support because they need and want it.

I think bigger organizations can find a lot of inspiration in what some of the smaller organizations are doing and how some of the new organizations are finding ways to serve people who have been missed by mainstream news for a long time. You can find inspiration in the way they’re approaching these challenges, and I think there’s always more to learn. 

Our news organizations across North Carolina have never come to be representative of the state that we serve in terms of people of color and women at the top for a long time. So seeing that part change is really encouraging. We also see that in our state government, in our institutions of power of North Carolina, we see an absence of women, we see an absence of people of color. And that when you look at the broad population of North Carolina and the communities we serve, recognizing that news organizations are still institutions that represent power and that taking that responsibility to heart about being inclusive and representative is something that news organizations really can make a lot of progress on. 

NC Local: What are you hopeful or excited about when it comes to local news?

North Carolina has so many amazing, committed, hard working people leading their news organizations, like Rose Hoban at North Carolina Health News and Glenn Burkins at Q City Metro. They started their organizations in the teeth of the recession and stuck with it and really made a huge difference. They give me hope and also people like Robyn Tomlin at Mcclatchy and Paola Jaramillo with Enlace Latino— the level of commitment and intelligence and vision that I see. 

What also gives me hope is that people are starting to open up and be more willing to learn from each other and band together around some of the common goals around public interest journalism. Ten years ago we thought somebody would find a business model that replaced the business model that fell apart. So there’s no one answer, there’s no one problem. But I think people coming together to work together in different ways to get to the goal— that gives me hope.

NC Local News Workshop