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WHQR's RTDNAC 'Outstanding News Operation' application letter and montage

A letter to RTDNAC judges and a 20-minute montage of WHQR's news reporting and analysis from July 1, 2022 to June 30, 2023.

Over the last year, we’ve continued on our mission: holding local government and education officials to account, tracking evolving environmental issues, and providing in-depth — and collaborative — elections coverage. We’ve also worked to meet the ever-present financial challenges of the news world with new grant-funded ventures. And we’ve worked hard to bake community engagement and conversation into the DNA of our newsroom (to mix culinary and biology metaphors).

This 20-minute audio compilation highlights the work of WHQR News — which is Rachel Keith, Kelly Kenoyer, and Camille Mojica, who all serve double duty as reporters and All Things Considered hosts, Ken Campbell, our Morning Edition host, Grace Vitaglione, our outgoing Community Fellow, and News Director Ben Schachtman, who also reports and hosts. Included are examples of coverage of the conditions at the New Hanover Regional Medical Center, PFAS contamination, affordable housing, and the mold crisis in Wilmington’s Housing Authority, a story WHQR broke last year and continued to cover until displaced residents finally started getting help. You’ll also hear Rachel Keith’s ongoing investigative work on allegations of a toxic workplace at CFCC, one that crushes dissent — even from its own board members.

WHQR Public Media’s news department is relatively small and we’re tasked with covering a geographically broad and culturally diverse area — the Cape Fear region of southeastern North Carolina, one of the fastest growing in the nation, which includes Brunswick, New Hanover, and Pender counties. We focus in particular on the greater Wilmington area.

Over the last year, we’ve leaned further into our partnerships to help us cover more ground. That includes our local collaboration with WECT and Port City Daily to produce and air town halls for candidates in local elections. We’ve also developed a joint venture, a weekly newsletter published in collaboration with The Assembly, a statewide digital magazine that produces bold, big-picture stories about complex issues across North Carolina. You’ll hear from The Assembly’s founder Kyle Villemain in our compilation.

We’ve also taken on a number of grant projects: in the fall and winter of 2022, we partnered with StoryCorps for their One Small Step project — a series of intimate one-on-one recording sessions designed to bridge the partisan divide and reconnect people on a human level. We worked for months to recruit and record conversation partners — and aired some of the highlights. We’re also partnering with the Chronicle of Philanthropy in a grant-funded project to cover the New Hanover Community Endowment, a $1.25-billion foundation resulting from the sale of New Hanover County’s community-owned hospital that has the potential for incredible good, but also self-dealing and favoritism protected by a lack of transparency.

Another facet of the journalism industry that we’ve been paying a lot of attention to over the last year is the reporting pipeline. In the fall of 2022, WHQR launched its effort to educate local high school students about journalism: Podlab. Once a week, reporter Kelly Kenoyer met with a local high school class to talk about journalistic ethics, sourcing, public records, how to find a story, and how to write a fair and even-handed article. Kenoyer also worked with teachers to design and apply a wrap-around curriculum, and WHQR staff helped students produce audio reporting pieces — and you’ll hear a snippet about that to close out our compilation. In the future, we hope to expand the program to include community college and university students, as well.

Lastly, we’ve made a conscious effort to add community conversation and engagement to our newsroom’s mission. Since the beginning of the year, we’ve launched a new program to support local podcasts, called WHQR Presents. And we’ve started a new public forum program called “Cape Fear Conversations,” which has so far included two events, one focused on Black history and DEI in the Wilmington area, and another focused on the LGBTQ community. We recorded both for broadcast, and you’ll hear a segment in our highlights.

Charitable giving dropped significantly in 2022 — and that puts a lot of stress on public media outlets like WHQR that rely on donations for a considerable portion of our operating budget. But we’ve worked hard to deliver on our promises to listeners, readers, and the community as a whole. Sometimes that means exploring new grant opportunities — like StoryCorps, the Chronicle of Philanthropy, or our new Report for America corps member, Nikolai Mather, who will help us improve coverage of rural issues outside of Wilmington. Sometimes that means walking away from the cut-throat competitiveness of the reporting world and embracing collaboration instead.

We hope that our continued success makes a good case for community-powered collaborative news reporting and community engagement. We’re proud of the work our staff has done — and the communities that have supported it.

Thank you for your consideration,

Ben Schachtman, News Director, WHQR

Audio content rundown with timestamps:

(0:00) Chemours files legal petition against EPA over GenX advisory

(0:22) What's life after prison like? LINC 're-entry simulation' maps out the post-incarceration struggle

(0:45) The gritty reality of a hot housing market

(1:52) For Cape Fear residents drinking well water and concerned about PFAS, it's a communication breakdown

(2:35) Drug Money: North Carolina’s little-known tax on illegal drugs and alcohol

(3:42) A year later, it's time for another deep dive on CFCC: Finances, firings, and faculty morale

(4:25) Novant touts NHRMC sale benefits but admits current situation is 'unsustainable'

(4:52) CFPUA says it can now totally remove PFAS from drinking water

(5:08) Tim Moore’s Heavy Hand

(5:55) New Hanover County Board of Education town hall: Context, analysis, and fact-checking

(6:52) Not a clearcut issue: Wood pellets, carbon sequestration, and war in Ukraine

(7:20) Gentrification in Wilmington Part II: The data, the struggle, and the solutions

(8:32) “Say it out loud”: NHC school board member criticizes attempt to scuttle trans-athlete policy over 'procedural error'

(8:53) NHCE’s first grant cycle is complete. Now things get interesting, complicated, and challenging

(9:40) The Newsroom: What we learned taking One Small Step

(10:20) One Small Step: "You're nicer than I expected"

(10:54) WHA Executive Director: Residents will be back home "more than likely by the end of Spring"

(12:23) 'Stamped' out? The battle to remove an AP-English book from a New Hanover County school

(13:20) "This is our life": Homeowners still in limbo over four years after Hurricane Florence

(14:28) Cape Fear Conversations: Black History in Wilmington

(15:23) Community Relations Advisory Committee supports petition to enforce anti-Klan law against the Proud Boys

(16:02) Ousted CFCC trustee says he repeatedly faced pressure to stay silent

(16:56) Fish wars: The decades-old battle over North Carolina's fisheries

(18:24) Displaced Wilmington Housing Authority residents all returning to homes from hotels

(18:53) CFR: New Hanover High School students take over the pod!

Ben Schachtman is a journalist and editor with a focus on local government accountability. He began reporting for Port City Daily in the Wilmington area in 2016 and took over as managing editor there in 2018. He’s a graduate of Rutgers College and later received his MA from NYU and his PhD from SUNY-Stony Brook, both in English Literature. He loves spending time with his wife and playing rock'n'roll very loudly. You can reach him at BSchachtman@whqr.org and find him on Twitter @Ben_Schachtman.