A conversation with the News & Observer’s Robyn Tomlin: Local news coverage in the time of COVID-19


Robyn Tomlin

Robyn Tomlin  is the Executive Editor at the News & Observer and Southeast Regional Editor for McClatchy. A Carolina native, Tomlin majored in journalism at UNC-Chapel Hill and was an editor of the Daily Tar Heel. She went on to become the first female managing editor of the Dallas Morning News, before joining the N&O in 2018. Tomlin took time from her busy day overseeing coverage of COVID-19 to answer some of our questions.

Local news is more important than ever

Tomlin observed that as Americans search for information on the rapidly evolving pandemic,  they turn to the news sources they know and trust. The path for local news outlets has been a hard one even before the current economic crunch spurred by shutdowns and social distancing. But Tomlin outlined the innovation the N&O has shown in reaction to the crisis.

“One thing has become incredibly clear in the last few weeks. Local audiences are craving quality local news and information,” she said.

Covering the story

“We’ve redeployed our entire staff as full-time coronavirus reporters, as this is changing every aspect of life for our readers,” Tomlin said. The paper’s reporters are covering every aspect of the story, with many working on new topics and beats — editors even have sports reporters covering press conferences with the governor. All, Tomlin noted, are focused on “providing readers with breaking news updates, stories that help answer key questions and are holding our leaders accountable.”

Remote reporting

For UNC students wondering how journalists can report under the COVID-19 conditions: Tomlin’s staff has been working remotely, producing vital coverage for North Carolina, since March 11. They’ve stayed in constant contact via Zoom and Slack. Editors, Tomlin says, even keep an open conference line on mute all day and “open it up for discussions and decisions as new developments emerge.” But they also haven’t forgotten the importance of human connection: “even though we’re not working in the same space, we’re finding ways to connect on a personal level as well.”

Check out the N&O’s video profile for more information on Tomlin and her time at UNC.


Stay tuned for more Work Transformed stories on how UNC Hussman alumni are adapting to this unprecedented time.

Alumnus Jamie Williams ’10, executive communications manager at UNC Health, is inspired by the patience and support provided by the communications team at UNC Health.

Alumna Caroline Bass ’19, a health writer and communications specialist for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, encourages us all to stay home and listen to public health professionals.

This story was originally published on hussman.unc.edu.