Panel Discussion: Why is local news important?

Panel Discussion: Why is local news important?

CHARLOTTE, NC (Kelcey McClung/WBTV) - "This is a moment of change- a pivot point, a revolution. We are in a totally different place than it used to be." Susan King, the dean of the School of Media and Journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill, delivered this line as she kicked off a panel, "Why Local News is Worth Fighting For," at the Charlotte Observer.

Participants discussed the changing landscape of news media, how existing media is evolving with the changes, and what the future holds for prospective journalists. All questions revolved around local media outlets, both new and traditional.

The panel featured a number of prominent journalists in the Charlotte community, including:

  • Charlotte Observer Editor- Sherry Chisenhall
  • WBTV Anchor- Molly Grantham
  • Charlotte Five Editor- Katie Toussaint
  • Charlotte Magazine- Associate Editor Adam Rhew
  • Jamie Gwaltney- Daily Tar Heel assistant editor and UNC-Chapel Hill student

Many panelists said that the tremendous change in news circulation - with social media and evolving technology - means readership is higher than ever before.

"We had half a million people on our site the other day," Chisenhall said. "Even on our best print day, we did not have that high of a number of newspapers in circulation."

Chisenhall spoke frequently of the talent and intelligence of the students that have worked at The Observer in the summer. Like the other panelists, she believes the future of news reporting and media is bright because of the innovative nature and adaptability of journalism students.

"You can't be around these people and not see how passionate they are," Chisenhall said. "Every dollar I save, I need that dollar to make jobs for people who are the future of this business and who believe in this business."

Optimism in students to sustain and strengthen local news was also discussed.

"Our students are inventing tomorrow," Dean King said. "They are rooted in the first amendment and those values."

Toussaint, whose platform of Charlotte Five is solely digital, spoke of engaging the younger generation. She didn't like to use the term "millennials," she said with a laugh. "We call it the m-word."

With an increased interest in lifestyle and city-living centered content, she said a younger audience keeps the push for local news alive.

"They [Millennials] want to know what's happening in the city day-to-day," she said. "That's what they're really interested in."

Because of the recent influx of lifestyle content, Rhew said the competition for that content has allowed Charlotte Magazine to take hold of the news side. He said, luckily, there has been a resurgence in magazines.

"There is a deeply committed readership that wants nuance, context, and history," he said. "We're still doing lifestyle, but our readers are also deeply engaged in long-form journalism."

All five panelists agreed the industry of reporting has adapted and, in some cases, flourished while transitioning into the age of digital journalism. A large spike in the popularity of push notifications, social media and electronic newsletters means news consumers have far more ways to reach an audience.

Dean King and Grantham asserted that broadcast was utilizing all of the new platforms in addition to the traditional television news show.

"People want smart news," Grantham said. "And as a digital journalist, television reporter and a news anchor, it's my responsibility to give people content on all platforms. Everybody in WBTV is a digital journalist. Everybody is on a multitude of media platforms."

Grantham added that social media and the web gives broadcast journalists the chance to introduce a story to viewers early on- breaking on Twitter and the web- and then bringing them deeper into the investigation during the traditional broadcast.

"If you're not multimedia," Grantham said. "You're not doing your job."

The panel was held Wednesday evening and also highlighted the Daily Tar Heel's 125th-year celebration.

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