Q&A with Colin Campbell, editor of The Insider

Colin Campbell is editor of The Insider State Government News Service, a website and newsletter in Raleigh, North Carolina. He previously worked as a reporter at The News & Observer, covering state politics. In this interview, conducted by email, Campbell discusses his role as editor and The Insider’s operations.

Q. Describe your job. What is your typical day like?

A. When the legislature is in session, I’m usually juggling a bunch of committee meetings and floor votes, writing short items for the newsletter. Outside of session, most of the stories I write are enterprise stories following up on state government news that didn’t get much attention initially.

Our newsletter comes out at midnight, so I typically log in from home around 10 p.m. to give it a final proofread once our production crew has put everything together. On Fridays, we record our weekly podcast with the N&O political team, and I write a weekly column on politics that’s syndicated to papers across the state.

Q. How is The Insider different from The News & Observer and other media that cover state government?

A. The Insider publishes news items from a wide variety of sources to ensure our subscribers get a comprehensive view of the day’s state politics and government news, so we have partnerships with WRAL, The Associated Press and others to use their coverage, as well as the N&O’s stories. That means the Insider’s original reporting can and must go beyond the breaking news of the day that the N&O will be covering.

Our subscribers are lawmakers, lobbyists and business leaders, so we don’t have to focus on topics of interest to a general audience and can instead delve into wonky policy stuff that other outlets typically ignore. We can also be somewhat of a community newspaper for the Legislative Building, looking at minor things like new furniture purchases and building security that are of interest to people who work here often.

Because the Insider is owned by the N&O, the N&O periodically publishes our stories after they appear first in the newsletter.

Q. You and your staff members are frequent users of Twitter. What role does social media play in your coverage?

A. The North Carolina political world is heavily plugged into Twitter, so it’s an invaluable tool for reporting. I frequently find story ideas by browsing the #ncpol hashtag and the people I follow.

It’s also been a helpful way to connect with the political world and establish ourselves as experts, to drive traffic to the N&O’s website, and to promote the Insider newsletter to potential subscribers.

Q. What advice do you have for student journalists interested in covering state government in North Carolina and elsewhere?

A. Be prepared to start small by covering town or county government — that’s the best way to learn how state and local governments operate. Jobs covering state politics are hard to find these days, so experience at a community newspaper is often the best way to start (for UNC students, Jock Lauterer’s community journalism course is the best available for that career path).

It can also be helpful to specialize, as North Carolina and other states have a number of subject-specific start-up news organizations like N.C. Health News and EducationNC, so knowledge in those subjects can be helpful. Keep an active social media presence to make connections and catch the eye of fellow reporters and editors.

Follow Colin Campbell on Twitter and learn more about The Insider in this short video.

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Your ideas are intriguing to me, and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter

In addition to my usual courses this semester, I am overseeing an independent study. Kelsey Weekman, a UNC-Chapel Hill senior majoring in journalism with a minor in screenwriting, will examine the rise of email newsletters.

Kelsey came to me with the idea near the end of the fall semester. She said that she was interested in studying the voice, design, length and illustrations in newsletters such as The Skimm and The Charlotte Agenda. Here’s what she said in her plan for the independent study:

I’m passionate about newsletter writing, and a class that delves into it just doesn’t exist yet at UNC. In this independent study, I want to learn how industry professionals write newsletters, both personally and through researching the writing itself.

So this semester, Kelsey will create a blog dedicated to this topic. Each week, she will post an analysis of an email newsletter. She also plans to interview editors who put together such newsletters.

By the end of the semester, Kelsey will write a paper to provide an overview of her findings and create the prototype for a newsletter. I’ve invited her to talk with my Advanced Editing class about her findings.

I’m excited to get to work with Kelsey on this project, and I invite you to follow along on her blog. Let us know if you have any suggestions about newsletters that have intrigued you.