How can we help local news survive, transform, and thrive? This question will not be answered by one person, one organization, or one innovation. Instead, it will be answered by local ecosystems that have many players, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, coming together to be greater than the sum of their parts. It will look different everywhere around the country, but without this systemic approach, local news cannot survive.
This theory is at the core of the work of the North Carolina Local News Lab Fund, which is announcing $500,000 in grants today. NCLNL’s goal is to support people and organizations working to build a healthier local news and information ecosystem in North Carolina. It is a collaborative fund at the North Carolina Community Foundation, established by a group of local and national funders who believe in the power of local journalism, local stories, and local people to strengthen our democracy.
The grants were selected by an advisory board with representatives from the following foundations: A.J. Fletcher Foundation, Democracy Fund, Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, Prentice Foundation, and Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, as well as subject matter experts from North Carolina Central University and NC Congress of Latino Organizations.
The fund’s first grants go to organizations working to expand access to critical news and information for all North Carolina communities. This cohort represents the fund’s commitment to supporting a diverse set of organizations pursuing meaningful projects to better serve local communities and strengthen the news and information ecosystem overall. Each of these grantees also represent vital networks of people, communities, and organizations that will engage and collaborate with their work.
It is, as Fiona Morgan wrote in “Learning from North Carolina,” a manifestation of how “North Carolina’s news ecosystem will likely succeed best as a network of networks, with distinct areas where people join forces, share resources or collaborate.”
These grantees are working to build new infrastructure for independent media, recognizing that we have to work together to meet the full needs of our communities. Across these efforts we saw a deep commitment to community and collaboration and a generosity and determination to openly share and jointly build a bold future for North Carolina.
Individually these are all great projects and organizations, and taken together they begin to connect people and communities across North Carolina in new ways. We are thrilled by the work these organizations will do, but this is just the beginning. We had more than 70 ideas submitted to the NCLNL through the application process, many of them addressing important needs and opportunities that we want to work on in the future.
Word on the Street/La Voz de los Jóvenes trainees learn how to tell stories in Asheville. Photo by Sekou Coleman.
The grantees are:
- Asheville Writers: Word on the Street/La Voz de los Jóvenes – Asheville Writers in the Schools and Community provides creative writing and arts programs for young people in local schools and community programs. Word on the Street/La Voz de los Jóvenes is an online magazine with a program that mentors and trains youth of color to gather and publish news that engages their communities and builds racial equity.
- Carolina Public Press: North Carolina Investigative Journalism Collaborative – Carolina Public Press is an independent nonprofit news organization established in 2011 with a focus on in-depth and investigative news in Western North Carolina. In 2018, it expanded to cover the entire state. CPP will lead the North Carolina Investigative Journalism Collaborative, which will launch collaborations between state and local media outlets, organize listening sessions between residents and members of the media statewide, and experiment with new ways to generate its own self-sustaining revenue.
- Colectivo de Comunicación Participativa de Carolina del Norte (CCPNC): Enlace Latino NC – Enlace Latino NC is a Spanish-language website that offers local, state, and national immigration and policy news during a critical time of need in the Latinx community in North Carolina. With this grant, Enlace Latino NC will focus on building their capacity, adding more resources, and reporting on key issues.
- Duke University Reporters Lab: North Carolina Fact-Checking Project– The North Carolina Fact-Checking Project is a collaborative effort focused on the 2018 state elections and 2019 state legislative session, providing rigorous fact-checked content for publications and broadcast programs statewide. The project aims to increase fact-checking coverage of public officials and candidates. It brings together partners with deep experience in substantive fact-checking with an innovative edge, including the Duke Reporters Lab, the News & Observer, and the Reese News Lab at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
- NC Health News: General Operating Support – North Carolina Health News is a leading news source on information about health care for residents, policymakers, lobbyists, and healthcare workers across North Carolina. With this grant, the NC Health News staff will continue and strengthen the organization’s work.
- NC Press Association: Training Program – The North Carolina Press Association (NCPA) supports newspapers statewide, offers a legal hotline, and hosts an annual convention. The NCPA is focused on a defending “the public’s right to know” by advocating for open government and championing First Amendment freedoms.
- UNC Center for Public TV: Public Media NC and HBCU Radio Together – Radio stations at historically black colleges and universities in North Carolina are a valuable resource for local, relevant, and timely news for the communities they serve. This collaboration between HBCU radio stations and UNC-TV will give all involved an opportunity to learn from each other and collaborate across mediums.
- UNC School of Media and Journalism: Trail Blazer – The Trail Blazer project will help sustain long-term coverage of stories by simplifying the research process for journalists in North Carolina. Through a mobile-friendly website, it will provide a comprehensive, updated, simple-to-navigate repository for journalists, including limited-scope facts, timelines, annotated documents, and links to existing articles. The core concepts of the Trail Blazer project were developed by veteran journalist Vaughn Hagerty, who broke a story about the presence of the chemical GenX in Cape Fear River.
- WNCU: Advancement of Emerging Young, Diverse News Journalists – WNCU is a public radio station that serves partly as a hub to train young journalists at North Carolina Central University. The Advancement of Emerging Young, Diverse News Journalists project will train a diverse, inclusive, and underrepresented group of student reporters via the WNCU radio station and the student newspaper, The Campus Echo.
- Working Narratives: Wilmington Ecology Project – Working Narrativesfocuses on reporting on pressing social challenges such as media justice, mass incarceration, and health equity. Founded in 2011, the organization works at the local and regional level to “tell great stories that inspire, activate and enliven our democracy.” The Wilmington Ecology Project will train citizens to produce and report their own stories through performance, radio, video, and other forms.
The advisory board of the Fund — Brett Chambers (North Carolina Central University), Elena Conley (Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation), Damon Circosta (A.J. Fletcher Foundation) Teresa Gorman (Democracy Fund) Bobbi Hapgood (Prentice Foundation), Ivan Kohar Parra (NC Congress of Latino Organizations), Sorien Schmidt (Z Smith Reynolds Foundation) and Josh Stearns (Democracy Fund) — were inspired and challenged by the scope and creativity of the proposals we received. It was incredibly difficult to pick just a few grantees in this round.
In partnership with the advisory board, funder partners, and others, including Democracy Fund Senior Consultant Melanie Sill, the NCLNL will continue to explore ways to support and strengthen North Carolina’s local news ecosystem. This will include future grantmaking and convenings. It will not be done in a vacuum. We will strive to live the NCLNL’s stated values of learning, diversity, equity, inclusion, innovation, and transparency, and continue to share updates from our grantees and others here on the Local News Lab.
As we continue this work, please share your comments, feedback, and ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.