Sarah Vassello has always loved local news.
After working at The Daily Tar Heel as a UNC student, she was especially inspired while giving a voice to her community.
Now, after serving in a variety of journalist roles, she is returning to Chapel Hill to join the UNC Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media team as program coordinator, where she will help support local news organizations that are threatened by revenue decreases and changes in audience habits.
“I think CISLM is an incredible resource for students at UNC,” Vassello said. “I wish I had that when I was there, so I’m really thrilled to help build something that I think that will help students as they enter the journalism field or the news industry.”
Vassello graduated from UNC in 2017, double majoring in journalism and political science, with a minor in women’s and gender studies. At the time, she focused in the Hussman’s school’s then-multimedia track, which she said gave her the skills to think logically within her storytelling.
During all four years as an undergraduate — including two summers — she served on The Daily Tar Heel’s arts desk as a writer and eventually editor. She said arts journalism allows a creative way to engage with all different types of readers.
“There are different ways to build trust with communities, but arts journalism really gives you a flexibility to explore new coverage areas that you really don’t have otherwise,” Vassello said. “But it also gives you an opportunity to put a different angle on really important stories in a way that could more accessible to readers.”
After graduation, Vassello went on to intern at Gannett — one of the largest media companies in the country — where she got to see more of the business and operational side of news. However, after seeing what a lack of independence can mean for newsrooms and news operations alike, she was drawn toward independent news organizations working outside of a shareholder system.
She then shifted to her most recent endeavor: working at the Institute for Nonprofit News. Vassello served within audience development and engagement for more than three years, and since she was working remotely, she knew how to work from home before the rest of the world did.
Fran Scarlett, a UNC-Knight Foundation Table Stakes coach, worked with Vassello at INN. Scarlett said she is a valuable addition to the CISLM team.
“Sarah is a creative problem-solver; she finds ways to make things happen,” Scarlett said. “She’s thoughtful, dedicated, and brings great customer-centricity to her work.”
In her new role, Vassello will work to make CISLM run smoothly, from communication to administrative duties, said Erica Beshears Perel, the center’s director.
“Sarah is deeply invested in the health of local news organizations. She has a broad range of technological, communications and interpersonal skills that will give our team a huge boost,” Perel said. “I can’t wait for our network of journalists, interns, consultants and industry experts to work with her.”
Vassello said is excited about being back in Chapel Hill and being able to create a deeper connection to news organizations in the Southeast.
“I’m really excited about any work that we do in order to make the journalism field truly sustainable, not just for readers, but for the journalists in the field — from an audience level to an HR level,” she said.