Let’s brag about NC’s news ecosystem for a moment…

But note that there’s still a lot of work to do

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By Shannan Bowen, executive editor, NC Local News Workshop

Last week, while attending the Independent News Sustainability Summit in Austin, I was struck by how many times someone mentioned North Carolina’s news and information ecosystem with admiration. When I introduced myself to new people or connected with old friends, I would hear them say something like:

  • I keep hearing so much about North Carolina!
  • You all have so much going on in NC.
  • I’m inspired by the work coming out of NC!
  • Wasn’t I just hearing about an interesting North Carolina news initiative recently?

And it’s true. We have a lot of great things in the works. I might be biased — OK, totally biased — but I’m going to take a moment to brag on all that’s going on in our state.

First, we have more than 400 entities producing news in some format — digital-only startups, traditional newspapers, TV news, commercial radio, public media, student media, nontraditional information providers and all other types. Though I’d certainly love to mention something wonderful about every single entity and journalist, I’ll highlight the winners of last week’s LION Publishers Local Journalism Awards as a few examples of impactful journalism:

  • Asheville Watchdog won in the Accountability Award category for its Equity Erased investigation, a seven-part series about a local attorney that preyed on vulnerable homeowners. From the judges: “‘Equity Erased’ is a model of what patient, persistent reporting can uncover …. This reporting showed how impactful local news organizations can be.”
  • Enlace Latino was the recipient of three awards, the most that any publisher received this year. They won a Public Service Award for launching the El Jornalero newsletter, which provides news and resources in Spanish concerning the rights and well-being of agricultural workers. The judges called it a “hugely impactful initiative that put community at the center.” They also won LION Business of the Year, with judges saying that Enlace has “made significant progress as a business while focusing on smart, intentional innovation toward serving a community that is not often served by mainstream media.”
  • Southerly Magazine and Enlace Latino together won Collaborator of the Year. “Beyond its immediate impact, the collaboration also led an outlet to start practicing solutions journalism, which is a huge win,” the judges said. 

In addition to partnerships like Southerly and Enlace Latino, we’re also home to the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative, the first large collaborative of this kind in NC. CJC, as we call it, launched to seek solutions to the city’s affordable housing problem and form stronger relationships between media and communities around the issue. To date, more than 300 stories on the topic have been published by the collaborative’s partners, and CJC even held a community summit and housing fair.

“There’s no doubt that the collaborative model has had a profound impact on the way news happens in Charlotte and the way a community responds to issues. It is yet another example of the importance that local news plays in creating a vibrant and thriving city,” writes CJC director Chris Rudisill in a recent case study.

Several of these organizations I’ve mentioned, as well as dozens more, have received funding from the NC Local News Lab Fund. That’s right. People I talk to are amazed to learn that NC is home to a fund that provides grants to news and information organizations for general operating needs. Just last week it announced “more than $1,500,000 in new grants to 31 news and community organizations—the most significant investment the Fund has made to date.” The News Lab Fund is also the funder of the NC Local News Workshop and makes our work possible. 

NC is also home to several universities with programs focused on journalism and media research that spark national discourse.

  • UNC Hussman School of Journalism’s research report into news deserts, led by Penny Muse Abernathy, is frequently referenced by scholars and news entrepreneurs alike. 
  • The DeWitt Wallace Center for Media & Democracy at Duke University and the Center for Sustainability and Innovation in Local Media at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are co-hosting a Local Journalism Researchers’ Workshop in early 2023 at UNC, which will bring together researchers across academic, industry and government sectors to discuss issues impacting local journalism.
  • Our partners at UNC’s Center for Sustainability and Innovation in Local Media also collaborated with us at the NC Local News Workshop on a statewide diversity audit this year. We are in the process of analyzing results, which we aim to share by the end of the year. To our knowledge, this effort is the first of its kind across all media on a state level. We will use the results to guide work for our respective organizations, as well as to help journalists, employers and others across the state work to create an equitable ecosystem.

Speaking of creating an equitable ecosystem, someone told me recently that NC is fortunate to have a backbone organization supporting our state’s news and information landscape at large. The Workshop, based at Elon University, aims to serve in that role by providing services and programs that build capacity for journalists and by convening people all across our state to work together and tackle shared challenges. We’re grateful to Eric Frederick for managing our weekly NC Local newsletter, which connects readers to resources, updates and information about industry news and beyond.

We also are proud of our annual NC News & Information Summit, which is co-produced with the NC Open Government Coalition—another tremendous asset for journalists in NC, also based at Elon University. This year we brought together 100 colleagues to discuss ideas and solutions to challenges facing local news in our state. We’ve announced March 16 as the date for the 2023 Summit, and we look forward to continuing the conversation. This is only one of our efforts to convene people to work together to build a stronger news and information ecosystem in our state.

Trust me — I’ve only named a sample of the organizations and efforts that are collectively building a strong foundation for news and information in NC. But all this bragging doesn’t mean we have everything figured out. We have to build up from this foundation to reach the shared vision we have for NC — that anyone in any community can access trustworthy, high-quality news and information from sustainable sources. We have a lot more work to do, but I’m optimistic. I wouldn’t be doing this work if I didn’t believe our vision was achievable.

Join me in helping NC build on this already-strong foundation. Contact me for how you can get involved or find resources for your own news and information efforts. We’re all off to a great start, but no one can do it alone.