Durham Voice is the Voice of Durham

By Carl W. Kenney II, managing editor

People have been asking, “where can I find your work?”

Yes, I’ve suspended my work with Rev-elution, my independent, local, Black focused online community newspaper. Don’t worry. I’m still here.

Although my vision for Rev-elution remains, my new love involves teaching. I’m an assistant professor of the practice of journalism at the Hussman School of Journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I teach community journalism and journalism writing and reporting along with serving as the managing editor at Durham Voice.

For more than 30 years, I’ve served as a community journalist writing commentary for The Herald-Sun, News & Observer, IndyWeek, Durham Magazine, The Columbia Missourian,  Religious News Services and articles appearing in The Washington Post. With my new role at UNC-CH, my focus radically shifts during a time when how and what we write faces massive changes as a result of cultural shifts.

My position as managing editor at Durham Voice reflects a responsibility beyond my former work as an independent community journalist. Our newsroom expanded during the spring semester after we added a second community journalism class. The students in this class are reporters for Durham Voice. In addition, Michelle LaRoche, professor of the practice, leads students reporting and writing business stories for Durham Voice and Professor Marisa Porto’s class of graduate students write stories using the solution-based journalism model. Andy Becthel, associate professor of journalism, leads a class of students who edit stories for Durham Voice.

During the fall semester, we began forming a vision for the rebranding of Durham Voice. Associate Professor Laura Ruel’s students envisioned the plan to redesign Durham Voice based on semester long research related to Durham and local media options. Teaching Assistant Professor Scott Geier provides exceptional technical support as we maneuver around significant challenges while preparing for the redesign of Durham Voice.

With more than 100 students and six professors supporting Durham Voice during my first academic year, our success is the result of a massive team effort. Our students withstood numerous issues on campus while reporting in Durham. Students during the fall semesters wrote profiles on candidates in the municipal election. During the spring semester, students embarked on reporting in an unfamiliar community when more than 50 Durham Public School bus drivers decided not to show up for work.

Our newsroom held meaningful conversations involving locating and writing stories relevant to the residents of Durham. The role of a community newspaper is to engage in conversations with the community versus reporting and writing from our limited lens. With this in mind, we spent considerable time reflecting on stories within stories, and how the voices of many residents are often denied access to what shows up as a story.

With this in mind, we decided to consider a variety of voices. We discussed how stories in Durham are often about the tension between Black and white opinions. We also considered how political stories often dominate the news while other critical interests aren’t reflected as part of what makes Durham a community.

A number of community concerns became a newsroom focus. We challenged the assumption that Durham is a community dominated by a progressive agenda. A member of the newsroom decided to find and report on Durham’s conservative leaning community. With a determination to find them, she ended up at Durham’s First Baptist Church and wrote a series of stories reflective of their life in Durham.

Another student took on the challenge of finding stories involving Durham’s transgender community. The goal of the newsroom involved telling stories from the perspective of younger readers. Our reporter found transgender youth bearing witness to their unique challenges. Our newsroom gained insight from the dialogue involving story development – the conservative lens versus the other side of stories.

Our newsroom decided to center issues relevant to Durham’s expanding Brown community. I challenged reporters assigned to this beat to explore stories beyond the assumptions involving a monolithic voice. We pressed to find stories involving the diverse community of Brown residents – Mexico, Honduras, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Chili, Argentina, Colombia, Panama and all of the rest. We decided to embrace the variety of stories and cultures that make up Durham’s rich Brown communities.

We decided to write stories involving Durham’s rich history with features on Ben Ruffin, Pauli Murray and the history of protest at the Carolina Theatre. Moving forward, our work involves introducing new residents to the history of Durham while celebrating all that makes Durham a place like no other.

Our newsroom decided to address environmental issues with a series involving a local community without clean water. We considered the work of local nonprofit organizations and economic development in East Durham. We centered Black economic development efforts and venture capital companies focused on supporting Black and Brown owned companies.

We began efforts to transition into a multimedia platform with a short documentary on Elaine O’Neal’s last days as Durham’s mayor. In the fall, we will expand with both video and photograph storytelling aimed at visualizing life in The Bull City.

There are numerous lessons after the end of my first year as full-time professor and managing editor of Durham Voice. The first involves the importance of a team. It all begins with Jock Lauterer, founder of Durham Voice. His vision for community journalism in Durham began after the 2008 murder of UNC-CH Study Body President Eve Carson. Lauterer’s passion to address crime in Durham involved beginning a community newspaper for the residents of North East Central Durham.

It all begins with Jock. Then there’s Raul Reis, dean at UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media. His leadership and support pave the way for our evolving work. His guidance establishes a growing culture reinforced by our faculty and staff.

All of that matters, but this is the work of our students. The impending facelift of Durham Voice includes rebranding aimed at reaching younger readers. Our focus will not be limited to reaching people new to Durham. Durham Voice is a community newspaper involved in conversations with all of Durham. We are present in Durham – listening to and responding to what matters to our readers.

With all of that said, I’m still here. My commentary will appear in Durham Voice. As managing editor, I will balance my voice by introducing other community perspectives.

Buckle up.

Durham Voice is the voice of Durham.