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  • Writer's pictureCaroline Watkins

Chatham News + Record

Updated: May 10

In 2020, I served as a Reynolds Journalism Institute Student Innovation Fellow. As a recent Mizzou graduate, I was eager to apply the skills I had learned at Mizzou to a local newsroom during COVID-19 — which has been such a critical time for local news.

Through my fellowship I was paired with the Chatham News + Record, a local newspaper based in Siler City, North Carolina. My main focus at the News + Record was audience engagement. Some of my primary duties included:

• Increasing audience engagement on Instagram

• Experimenting with content on TikTok

• Revamping/Publishing The Chatham Brew, the paper's triweekly newsletter

• Copyediting

• Reporting

• Implementing a Social Media Style Guide

• Creating the paper's first AMP story

• Creating multimedia content

In addition to my work at the paper, I also wrote a number of articles for RJI about how local outlets could implement similar innovative strategies at their own newsrooms around the country. These two articles below highlight some of the lessons I learned through working in audience engagement for the News + Record. You can read my articles here:

During my time at the News + Record, I also tracked my analytics to include in my social media style guide:

*Please note that I still have a month left of my fellowship, so my metrics will be updated in September following the completion of my fellowship*

Here is a screenshot from the News + Record's Instagram account. When I started my fellowship, the account had a little over 480 followers. Now, the account has over 800 followers. During my fellowship, I spent most of my time improving engagement on Instagram and creating content for the account on a daily basis. At the beginning of my fellowship, I also quickly implemented a link-in-bio system to drive more traffic to the newspaper's website and designed Instagram Story Highlight covers to archive some of the Instagram Stories that I produced. You can view the live Instagram account here.


Over the course of my time working on the Instagram account, I:

• Increased Instagram followers by 71%

• Gained over 63,422 impressions with an average reach of 271 people

• Gained 205 link-in-bio clicks & 213 website clicks with an 80% click-through rate

• Averaged a 94% completion rate through IG stories

As someone who didn't have a TikTok account before my fellowship, creating and managing the TikTok account was definitely a trial and error process for me. As I started to get more comfortable on the account, I brainstormed a number of different types of posts that our newspaper could share on the platform, whether it was reporter takeovers or weekly recaps of our top stories of the week (an idea I that revamped and cross-promoted between Instagram and TikTok). You can view the News + Record's TikTok here:


Over the course of my time working on the TikTok account, I:

• Saw a percentage increase in followers by 3400% (went from 1 follower to 35)

• Gained 61 likes on videos

• Averaged 102 views

• Gained over triple the followers of other state newspapers (Charlotte Observer and The News & Observer—11 followers each).

Overall, I really enjoyed finding news ways to engage with our readers on social platforms and work on projects like the Chatham Brew. Below, I will share some examples of my work:

Click on the photo below to take you to a Friday edition of the Chatham Brew, a triweekly newsletter that I redesigned, reformatted, produced and promoted over the course of my fellowship. Over the course of my four months at the News + Record, we gained 280 new subscribers through my various engagement efforts.

Lastly, one of my favorite ways to engage with our followers was through Instagram Stories, where I created quizzes, polls, informational "slideshows" and more.

One of the Instagram Story projects I worked on was creating "About Us" posts for our followers, so they could get to know our staff members better.

I also enjoyed redesigning #TheFridayFive, a weekly recap of our top five news stories of the week.

Making quizzes and polls was also a great way to engage directly with our followers.

Overall, I learned so much through my RJI Student Innovation Fellowship. I am grateful for the Reynolds Journalism Institute and my boss, Bill Horner III, of the Chatham News + Record for this opportunity. I look forward to applying the engagement skills that I honed at the News + Record to my next position.


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