Shannan Bowen is the executive director of the North Carolina Local News Workshop, overseeing the initiative’s objectives to better inform North Carolina residents on public affairs and civic issues, while supporting – and connecting – the state’s news organizations.
Funded by the NC Local News Lab Fund at the NC Community Foundation, the statewide initiative is housed at Elon University’s School of Communications. A former reporter who is well-versed in North Carolina’s media landscape, Bowen most recently served as director of product engagement for McClatchy.
With four questions, we’re asking industry movers and shakers, including Bowen, to share reflections on 2021 and what they are excited about in the year to come.
What is something you were wrong about in 2021?
I thought I’d need to spend a lot more time convincing journalists in North Carolina that collaboration benefits them more than competition. But journalists in our state get it. Many are already leading different types of collaboration efforts. I began my role as executive director of the NC Local News Workshop this summer and have had the opportunity to listen to many people working in different types of news and information organizations. From legacy news orgs to startups, people are eager to work together here in North Carolina. But the question I most often get is “how do we make this work?” As I convene journalists and information providers to talk about models and experiments, I’m also looking for ways to help them form relationships and find the resources and infrastructure to make such partnerships successful.
What is something you or your company got right or did well this year?
The NC Local News Workshop launched a pilot project to advance diversity, equity and inclusion in news and public affairs information for our state’s residents. The Media Equity Project, led by founding executive director Melanie Sill, convened six of our state’s leading news organizations to learn from each other as a cohort, receive coaching on individual initiatives, and attend workshops on specific DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] topics. The cohort also worked together on a virtual statewide listening session to hear from their BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, People of Color] community members. We learned a lot about the format, topics and overall approach for designing this kind of program and will be launching a second phase for more publishers in the new year. But one thing was clear: the publishers found so much value in learning from one another that many of them asked to keep going next year. In a feedback session as we wrapped the pilot program, they expressed the need for more tools and resources and the desire to keep talking to one another. This program helped each publisher individually make progress on their own DEI goals, but it also helped strengthen the network of journalists in our state while benefiting our state’s news and information ecosystem overall.
What is one opportunity you’re excited about for next year?
Along with Brooks Fuller, who leads the NC Open Government Coalition at Elon University, I am co-leading the launch of an annual journalism summit in North Carolina. The NC News & Information Summit, to be held March 17 at Elon University, will feature Sunshine Week transparency topics in addition to participatory workshops about ideas, challenges and issues facing our state’s local news and information ecosystem. We are designing this conference with guidance from OpenNews, an organization I’ve long admired for their inclusive and interactive conferences like SRCCON. The Summit will serve as a way to convene the many impressive journalists, academics, community members and others who provide thought partnership for solving news needs in our state.
What do you think will be the most significant change to the local media industry in the next 1-3 years?
We’re seeing so much change currently, that I’m going to answer a little differently about what should be the most significant change to the local media industry in the next 1-3 years.
If we get it right, we’ll see more trust and support for local news from communities that are served, represented and engaged. This leads to sustainability for news organizations both nonprofit and for-profit. But let’s not expect to see this strengthened trust and support for just one news organization in a region. If we get it right, more funding will be given to founders of news organizations serving communities of color or launching in rural areas or serving other communities who do not find value in other sources of news. If we get it right, people from communities of all types can point to a trusted, fair and accurate source of news and information that they value—even if that news source is different from a neighbor’s. And who is “we”? Getting it right takes a collaborative effort from all members of a local news and information ecosystem. If we can work together to listen to our communities, create products that better serve them and attract funding for a variety of models, we can ensure that communities have news sources that meet their needs, leading to trusted relationships and continued financial support to keep their missions going. I know this is optimistic, but this kind of collaborative vision is the change we need.
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