Elon University, N.C. Local News Lab Fund launch local news initiative

The North Carolina Local News Workshop, housed at Elon’s School of Communications, will champion new approaches to providing reliable, high-quality journalism and information for NC residents and offer a base of support for organizations and individuals working to reinvent and sustain local news.

Beginning June 1, Elon University’s School of Communications will be home to the North Carolina Local News Workshop, a new statewide initiative providing programming, resources and ongoing support for organizations working to inform North Carolina residents about state and local issues.

The NC Local News Workshop will be a support base and resource center for local news and information in North Carolina. For more information, visit the initiative’s website, www.ncnewsworks.org.

The North Carolina Local News Lab Fund, a pooled fund with partners including Democracy Fund and The Educational Foundation of America administered by the North Carolina Community Foundation, established the workshop with an initial $180,000 grant to Elon with the goal of collaborating with national and local funders to sustain its long-term operation.

“This pooled funding from a host of community and national foundations, including the Democracy Fund, will be dedicated to ensuring that North Carolinians have access to news and information so that they can participate in the democratic process,” said Elon President Connie Ledoux Book.

Rochelle Ford, dean of the School of Communications, Lizzy Hazeltine, fund coordinator for the NC Local News Lab Fund, and Melanie Sill, NC Local News Lab Fund consultant, detailed the workshop’s launch during the Center for Cooperative Media’s Collaborative Journalism Virtual Summit.

“This new support base is a critical part of our response to our state’s deepening local news crisis and the promise of emerging work that informs all North Carolina residents,” Hazeltine said. “Local news and information systems are critical infrastructure, a fact which was true when we first approached Elon and has only become more plain during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Local news is fighting for its future in North Carolina and nationally, even as crises such as the coronavirus pandemic and a reeling economy make reliable, accessible information even more critical for effective community response. The state is home to strong local news traditions, and also to significant experiments — in nonprofit and for-profit newsrooms — aiming to forge new directions for public interest journalism.

The NC Local News Workshop, available at www.ncnewsworks.org, will serve that ecosystem of news and information through programming and communication that support, amplify and boost efforts to inform local residents and give them voice in public affairs. Through partnerships and an inclusive, community-focused approach, the workshop aims to help North Carolina become a national model for fresh approaches to journalism as a public service.

Led by Sill, a journalism veteran and former news executive, the workshop will launch in June with its first initiative: The NC Local News Intern Corps, with four college media interns and a professional editor. The program will provide professional experience to student journalists, and in turn offer additional journalism capacity to news organizations covering COVID-19 and other important North Carolina stories this summer.

The workshop was created to connect, empower and expand the community of practice focused on informing North Carolinians. The weekly email newsletter NC Local, launched by Sill in 2018 and now edited by Ryan Tuck, will continue as part of the workshop’s activities. Among other initial goals:

  • Supporting news and information that respond to community needs and gaps, including public affairs coverage by and for black and Latinx residents, rural communities, or people otherwise missing or missed by news coverage.
  • Helping local news providers build capacity through small, nimble grants for experimentation, collaboration, expert coaching, training, or through partnership projects with state or national media innovation organizations.
  • Connecting, informing and expanding the community of practice focused on local news and information. The workshop will incorporate NC Local, the weekly email newsletter, and convene a variety of events (training, networking, public listening) to foster relationships and knowledge-sharing.

The workshop’s launch at Elon was led by Anthony Hatcher, chair of Elon’s Journalism Department, and Ford, with support from the university’s Offices of Advancement, Academic Affairs/Provost and the Office of the President, and in partnership with Sill, who will serve as the interim executive director. The initiative will be housed on Elon’s campus in Dwight C. Schar Hall.

The workshop will serve people and organizations across the state, and through its base at Elon, will also support the university’s students, faculty projects and school initiatives. It will pursue partner projects and support a host of state and national entities working on research, innovation or support for local news.

“We are excited to bring the workshop to campus and offer assistance to local news efforts throughout our state,” Hatcher said. “It benefits our students because they get work experience. It benefits local news, especially in underserved areas, because our students can contribute to either special projects or ongoing news efforts to keep people informed. At the very least, we hope to help communities reconnect. We expect this to be a win all around.”

Recently, the workshop accepted applications for its Intern Corps, a summer internship program supporting students and recent college graduates preparing to enter the professional ranks. These summer interns will assist state newsrooms, producing stories for digital, social media, print and broadcast platforms. The interns each receive a $4,000 stipend and will be supervised by Elon Adjunct Instructor Susan Ladd, a former reporter, columnist and editor at the Greensboro News & Record.

“The Intern Corps aims to meet two main needs – professional development for students, some of whom had internships canceled, and added capacity for newsrooms to continue their great work on COVID-19,” said Sill, a former top editor and news executive at The News & Observer, Sacramento Bee and Southern California Public Radio /KPCC. “It’s also an experiment with pooled resources, and illustrates our plans to be nimble and responsive, and to share what we learn as we go.”

The gift to support the North Carolina Local News Workshop is counted as part of the $250 million Elon LEADS Campaign. The partnership with the Local News Lab Fund has a goal of collectively raising funds to support the on-going programs of the workshop. Elon LEADS is the largest campaign in the university’s history and will provide new funding for scholarships, access to engaged learning opportunities such as the workshop, faculty and staff mentors, and development of the campus. To date, donors have contributed $191 million toward the campaign goal.

About the North Carolina Local News Lab Fund

The North Carolina Local News Lab Fund was established at the North Carolina Community Foundation in 2017 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 mission of the fund is to ensure that all North Carolinians have access to the news and information they need to make their communities thrive.

About the Elon University School of Communications

Supported by more than 80 full-time faculty and staff members, the School of Communications delivers a student-centered academic experience and access to high-impact experiential learning opportunities, educating students to become data-driven storytellers. Through six undergraduate majors, including a one-of-a-kind Media Analytics program, and an Interactive Media master’s program, the school’s nearly 1,400 students learn how to assess traditional and new media metrics to inform decisions from the newsroom to the boardroom.