It was three minutes to the start of the Zoom session, and more than 20 people were already in the waiting room.
“I told them they better show up on time,” said Dr. Dawn Baldwin-Gibson, the pastor of Peletah Ministries. Based in New Bern, Baldwin-Gibson is a former student journalist and community organizer. While her day job is leading her congregation and serving the larger New Bern community through vaccine drives, volunteering and more, she’s been among the handful of folks in New Bern working to provide reliable information.
This comes at a time when it’s needed more than ever in the town. The vaccination rate is average — as of December 29, only 59 percent of Craven County residents are fully vaccinated. Misinformation is fueled by a popular magazine in town, with headlines like “COVID is a hoax.” Directly under these headlines are advertisements for community health centers, vaccination information and more.
The community is fighting misinformation with facts, as members of the church are reviving a community news organization, The New Bern Post, asking the Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media for help in education and training in the foundations of reliable, fact-based journalism. The New Bern Post has an editor but is the plan is to be staffed by community journalists on a freelance basis.
This is a similar idea to City Bureau’s Documenters project or Canopy Atlanta’s model, in which the outlet collaborates with Atlantans — from assigning stories to reporting and presenting them — and helps residents access information about the issues that matter to them most.
“We’re excited to share information in a factual way that is honest and has great integrity,” Baldwin-Gibson said during her welcoming statements.
On the evening of Nov. 16, CISLM Director Erica Perel hopped on Zoom with these 20+ community members ranging from high school students to retirees and everyone in between. Perel started with the basics: What is news reporting? What are journalism ethics? How do you conduct an interview? As a former journalist for The Charlotte Observer and the former general manager for The Daily Tar Heel, Perel pulled on her own experiences to highlight real-world examples.
What started as a straightforward presentation turned into an interactive discussion as attendees reflected on how they could bring these practices to their news organization.
The main thread of conversation related to journalistic independence and ethics: How do you acknowledge your biases without letting them harm your work? How do you vet sources, do your research and tell the truth in a way that’s real and accessible?
These are questions journalists are asking as well.
“It was clear to me that the community contributors at the Post are rooted in New Bern and are used to providing community service and care,” Perel said. “Now they’re thinking about how to build journalism into that service. They want to do it well, because the stakes are high.”
There was so much enthusiasm and discussion that the presentation was split into two parts, with a follow-up meeting to cover the rest and facilitate more questions.
“The sessions on building trust and importance of ethical standards of journalism extended the one session program to two sessions as engagement and interest were very high,” Baldwin-Gibson said. “We at the New Bern Post are truly grateful to Erica Perel and the team at UNC Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media team for sharing with our communities the insights and resources that are needed for our community news outlet.”
Stay tuned for the re-launch of the New Bern Post, which will start publishing regularly this month.
If you work with community journalists, or would like to, and are interested in improving their training, please contact us at [email protected] to explore what resources may be available to you.