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October 22, 2018

A new program to support student journalists – an interview with WNCU’s Lackisha Freeman

‘For me, it’s always been, “How can we do more?”‘

This blog post is part of an ongoing series sharing stories from North Carolina Local News Lab Fund grantees and others working in local news ecosystems.  The North Carolina Local News Lab Fund’s goal is to support people and organizations working to build a healthier local news and information ecosystem in North Carolina. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

A headshot of Lackisha Freeman, a general manager at WNCU.

Lackisha Freeman, general manager of WNCU.

If you told Lackisha Freeman as a young student that she would one day have a career in public radio, she may not have believed you. During her first few years of law school at North Carolina Central University, she took a side job as an office  assistant at the campus public radio station, WNCU.

“I discovered something new,” she said. “I was bit by the media bug and I never looked back.”

She now works as the general manager for the station, along with heading the station’s Advancement of Emerging Young, Diverse News Journalists project. The program will train a group of student reporters through mentoring and professional training. Read more about the program here.  We asked Freeman about the power of collaborative media and what’s on the horizon for the station.

What drew you to lead the Advancement of Emerging Young, Diverse News Journalists project for WNCU?

I’ve been wishing we could do something a little bit more intensive for students, like a quasi-newsroom experience. There was really never a chance for working with them on a more extensive level. [This project] is more independent. We’ll still guide them to make sure things are ethical with respect to best practices in journalism, but it’s definitely more freedom for them to express themselves, be who they are and have their own voice.


Which news or information collaborations have inspired you the most?

Recently, we collaborated with UNC-TV with the documentary, “Tell Them We Are Rising.” We were one of the HBCU campuses that was selected to premiere the documentary. We worked with Deborah Holt Noel. She is the host and also producer Black Issues Forum. It was a full day, and I just think that was a wonderful success. That, to me, was collaboration at its finest, honestly. To see television and radio come together, along with the documentary — it was beautiful. It was amazing. As a spinoff of that day, they produced a special show on HBCU leaders.


Are there any unsung heroes in the Durham area news community? Who do you look up to?

She’s not unsung, so to speak, but Miriam Thomas Norris, who used to work at ABC11. As a young kid growing up, I was a fan. Part of it was seeing a woman that looked like me who was successful and delivered the news so eloquently. That was something endearing for me because there was a black woman I grew up looking at on TV demanding her space during prime time on television and reigning effortlessly in a field that was not dominant for minority women.


What fed into the idea of this project to help along emerging, diverse journalists?

I’ve been wanting to do this for some time and trying to find opportunities and resources. Not only are we a full-powered FM radio station serving both the campus and the community, but also under the academic umbrella at North Carolina Central. Part of the charge is to train students. For me, it’s always been, “How can we do more?” For this more advanced level of training, instead of it just being a grade, I wanted students to have a little bit of incentive, where they can [be paid] and feel like it’s more of a job. My wheels are already spinning about how we can continue this. I would love to see us have a full-fledged newsroom where students come in and we include them as part of a news team.

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Rachel Wegner is a journalist and multimedia storyteller currently working as a digital producer at The Tennessean. Wegner wrote and edited a series of Q+As with grantees during her tenure as an intern with Democracy Fund’s Public Square program in Summer 2018. Follow Wegner on Twitter @rachelannwegner.