Lucas Thomae brings firsthand experience with local news to CISLM

By Katelyn Chedraoui, CISLM intern

Lucas Thomae has always been intrigued by journalism. But after talking to his neighbor Eddie Wooten, sports editor at the Greensboro News and Record and the Winston Salem Journal, his career interests sharpened. As he fell in love with local journalism, Thomae started shadowing different sports reporters from his hometown newspapers and published his first story as a freelancer in early 2020.

The Greensboro News and Record is a legacy paper serving the Greensboro area for about 130 years. It is also home to some of his first bylines. When the News and Record was purchased by Lee Enterprises in 2020, it was forced to lay off a third of its staff, some of whom had been Thomae’s mentors.

Having had a front-row seat to the changes the paper underwent, as a stringer and reader, Thomae now identifies this moment as a turning point for himself.

“I was really scared for the future of local news,” Thomae said. “Because I had seen these guys, who were so good at what they did, and so connected with the community, and they were just thrown aside… It was one of the biggest reasons I was interested in CISLM — I had seen what was happening firsthand.”

Now, he brings his experience reporting for local news outlets to the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media as a communications and operations intern.

“Lucas has more direct experience with local news than most college students,” said Erica Perel, CISLM director. “He understands how the forces shaping the industry play out in day-to-day coverage and staffing decisions. He’s also got great analytical and data skills, so he has been able to jump right into work at CISLM.

Thomae, a sophomore journalism major in the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, is also a senior writer for The Daily Tar Heel, UNC’s independent college media. Last summer, Thomae was the DTH’s sports desk editor, leading a team of 10. During his tenure, he wrote and oversaw the production of stories covering UNC’s presence in the Tokyo Olympics, the Supreme Court’s decision regarding college athletes’ rights to their names, image and likeness, alongside spring sports performance reviews, profiles and analyses. He also published his first editorial piece, a column titled: “Women’s sports teams dominate UNC athletics, so treat them like it.”

On breaks and outside his time at UNC, Thomae returns to his home papers as a stringer. One important and memorable story was when the MLB finally awarded official recognition and status to players in the Negro Leagues in December 2020. He spoke with local baseball legend Ken Free about the historic move, and how incorporating the Negro Leagues into “major status” was a long time coming.

“At the heart of a good bit of journalism, and certainly in sports, is talking to people and earning their trust to get them to share their story with you,” said Wooten, Thomae’s mentor.

While writing the piece, Thomae learned how sports reporting is always about more than just the game. “Sports reporting is not just sports reporting; it’s human interest. It weaves in political reporting, culture reporting and social justice reporting,” he said. “It was a story that really challenged me because I never had any experience writing from that sort of lens before, and a lot of the things I learned from reporting that story I take into account every single day when I’m writing.”

One of Thomae’s strengths as a local news reporter is his civic engagement. “As his teacher, I got to know Lucas well and learned that he is a careful thinker, a concerned citizen and a kind human being,” said Evan Post, one of Thomae’s mentors from Grimsley High School. “Those traits qualify him for a number of noble pursuits, not least of which is the path he’s on now.”

Thomae still hopes for a career in a local newsroom, despite all the turbulence and uncertainty it presents.

“Local news is something I really want to see survive into the future,” he said. “It’s exciting to be (at CISLM), on the flip side of all that doom and gloom, and to think about how new strategies and new technology can be implemented for a complete overhaul of what local news looks like.”