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'The Wilmington Dive': Johanna F. Still on The Assembly and WHQR's joint newsletter

The ThermoFisher building, formerly the PPD headquarters.
Benjamin Schachtman
The ThermoFisher building, formerly the PPD headquarters.

WHQR recently launched a joint newsletter with The Assembly, a state-wide magazine focusing on in-depth reporting. WHQR's Ben Schachtman sat down with The Assembly's Johanna F. Still to talk about the latest edition.

Benjamin Schachtman: Alright, Johanna Still – thank you for being here. Of course.

Johanna F. Still: Thanks, man.

BS: So, you are the Wilmington editor for The Assembly you're taking over for friend-of-the-show Kevin Mauer and we are copublishing — WHQR and The Assembly — a weekly newsletter called The Wilmington Dive, what can readers expect?

[You can sign up for the free weekly newsletter here.]

JS: Every week, Thursday mornings, you can expect a fresh, unique take on local issues that are going on. And our real marching orders are to not duplicate what's going on in our current news ecosystem. We really want to complement and provide something that's either filling a void or just adding to with a new angle, what's already going on.

BS: And what's in this week's episode – I know! – but some of our listeners won’t know.

JS: So this week, we took a look at the ‘penthouse problems’ that are going on with the City of Wilmington. And you took a look at last week's crime spree. But to start the city has obviously purchased the PPD building – $68 million. It's the region's tallest building. It's just this really landmark kind of institutional space in downtown Wilmington. And so because the city purchased the building, there's been this internal debate with City Council that's sort of now spilled over a little bit into the public sphere of whether city employees should occupy the nicest sleekest best floors up at the very top. And so the plan, maybe they've gone through multiple iterations of the plan, but they will be occupying floors, 1, 3, 10, 11, and 12. And the fact that they would be occupying the penthouse suite has caused some consternation among council members and then now some members of the community.

BS: Yeah, I think the loudest voice of frustration has been Councilman Luke Waddell, but you also spoke to Councilman Kevin Spears, who said he thought this was sound and fury, signifying nothing.

JS: Councilman Spears thought that Councilman Luke Waddell and other fellow Councilman Neil Anderson were creating frenzy over it. And that Councilman Spears said, ‘I don't really care what floor we're on.’ And I think it makes sense to occupy the top floor.

BS: Spears did add on Twitter, "did moving the Black Lives Do Matter Sign muddy the relationship with residents? You can't see those residents from the penthouse. Some couldn't see them from the dias."

JS: Ah, wow.

BS: So he had a little spicy afterthought.

JS: Yeah. And that his response that you just read there, he's referencing Councilman Luke Waddell’s comment about that, because of the city occupying the very top floors, that the relationship with residents could be irreparably harmed basically, in the future. If the city were to ever want to raise taxes, Luke Waddell is saying that city residents have pretty good explanation or excuse to look at city council and say, ‘why would you want us to pay more when you're in the penthouse?’ And so he's basically saying, even though of course, it is a math problem. He's also saying there's this sort of intangible relationship issue going on that the city is at risk for.

BS: So the other thing that The Dive can help us do is some collaborative and long-form reporting, taking on some of the stickier issues, maybe some of the stories that other news outlets don't have bandwidth for.

JS: Right.

BS: So we welcome people's ideas.

JS: Yeah, please do, please.

BS: So how can they get a hold of us?

JS: We are available Ben, obviously, through your WHQR newsroom. And through the Wilmington Dive email at wilmington@theassemblync.com. And we're really collaborating on everything that we're putting out. And so stuff that you send to WHQR or stuff that you send to The Assembly, we're able to talk to each other. We worked with each other before about the types of topics that we're interested in. And so there's no like zero competition. And that's what's really cool, I think, about The Assembly and WHQR is that we have a very collaborative stance when it comes to, you know, news gathering, news publishing, and that we are really just trying to address what hasn't been addressed or what's not being addressed.

BS: All right, Johanna Still, thanks for being here.

JS: Thanks, Ben.

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.