News you can use: Inside WHQR’s people-powered elections coverage (page 6)

Part VI: Building a collaborative future

Running the Community Agenda for WHQR was a transformational experience for me. I’m not from Wilmington; I moved here in 2021 to start my job at WHQR. I thought I knew the city already, and I did – certainly, reporters get to know a lot more parts of the places they serve than the average resident.

But I came to know this town much better by tabling in so many parts of it. In analyzing the data, I saw trends based on zip code, age, and race that I didn’t predict. I knew community members had specific concerns about development, but I began hearing about older grievances, about how people perceived a place where they grew up, and understood those concerns better. These are the conversations I don’t have as a reporter in my day-to-day, when I’m just covering the news. The experience of residing in a city differs by neighborhood, but I learned that many residents share common concerns across neighborhoods and demographics.

It also gave me a window into the value of non-experts.

Our community agenda coverage of the election centered the perspectives of residents, not politicians, and gave voice to people who are rarely asked to speak. Hearing their views on and off my beat showed me how intelligent, self-educated, and involved many residents are. I had a fascinating conversation with one respondent, Pharmacist Navid Amlany, where topics ranged from the homeless individuals he sees in the emergency room at the hospital where he works, to the intersections of bike infrastructure, traffic planning, and housing development.

Interviewing so many different kinds of people forced me to confront my biases as a reporter. Like many reporters I develop lists of go-to sources on many of the issues I cover, and they are often experts, activists or public officials. I got a more nuanced understanding of my beat by listening to the experiences of residents on those topics. And it allows me to approach my future stories with a better sense of how to bring them the news, and how to bring laypeople into the reporting and agenda-setting process.

WHQR will run the Community Agenda again.

It was a tremendous success in that it gave us valuable new sources, grew our newsletter audience, and gave us a mandate for tracking how the newly elected officials vote with or against the community’s stated interests.

But, we would love to do it together with other newsrooms. For more than six months, newsrooms across North Carolina have been meeting to plan a statewide citizens agenda. With funding, it could look like a statewide poll, regional perspectives, and voter guides that cover nearly every race on the ballot. Without grant funding so far, it may be a patchwork effort of just a few strongly committed individuals and news teams.

WHQR would love to partner with our local Cape Fear Community College faculty, or faculty at University of North Carolina- Wilmington, to coordinate our local efforts.

Anyone interested in supporting the Community Agenda, or in joining with us, can email me at kkenoyer@whqr.org.

Next chapter

"News you can use: Inside WHQR’s people-powered elections coverage" table of contents

  1. News you can use: Inside WHQR’s people-powered elections coverage
  2. Part II: The plan
  3. Part III: Surprises and Modifications
  4. Part IV: The findings
  5. Part V: Lessons for Next Time
  6. Part VI: Building a collaborative future
  7. Resources