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November 1, 2018

Collaboration is key for investigative reporting, Carolina Public Press founder says

“We view ourselves as a tool for North Carolinians seeking in-depth and investigative reporting.”

This blog post is part of an ongoing series sharing stories from North Carolina Local News Lab Fund grantees and others working in local news ecosystems.  The North Carolina Local News Lab Fund’s goal is to support people and organizations working to build a healthier local news and information ecosystem in North Carolina. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Angie Newsome, founder and executive editor, Carolina Public Press. 

Angie Newsome’s eyes were first opened to the need for investigative journalism when she saw how factory workers in the Piedmont Triad region of North Carolina were struggling with environmental and work hazards. At the time she was working for a community organization focused on environmental issues.

“One of the places they went for help was the local newspaper, which flat out turned them down,” Newsome said. “That really opened my eyes to how people really view journalism as a resource, as a place for help.”

She continued as a reporter in the years that followed and eventually founded the Carolina Public Press in 2011. A lifelong North Carolinian, Newsome said she is driven by a passion to serve her state with quality investigative reporting. That led her to launch the North Carolina Investigative Journalism Collaborative. The project will pilot efforts to form statewide collaborative investigative news projects and community listening sessions. Read on to find out what and who inspires Newsome, and how she thinks investigative reporting can change the way people see the news.

Which investigative news projects and/or collaborative news projects inspire you the most? Who do you look up to?

Right now, I’m very inspired by the local reporting network that ProPublica is doing. That’s just amazing. I’m following that and reading their reporting. The Texas Tribune also comes to mind. There are more and more nonprofit news organizations across the country. Every single of them is inspiring in some form or fashion. Creating a nonprofit news organization is a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Anybody who takes that on is worthy of my admiration, in my opinion, whether they fail or succeed.

Are there any unsung “news heroes” in the Asheville community that you wish people knew about? If so, who are they and what do they do?

The people that are really unsung in our communities are people asking for public records, pushing for open government and are holding elected officials accountable to meet those laws and ethics and standards. I also admire the media law attorneys working on public records and open government issues across the state. In North Carolina, there’s no ombudsman. Public records and open government laws are tested in the court system. I especially admire attorney Amanda Martin and everyone at her firm. She’s an attorney that works with the North Carolina Press Association. The NCPA has a hotline, so if you have a question about open government or public records, you can call and she’s the one who answers the phone. She is highly dedicated, highly knowledgeable. We send her an email and she gets back to us within hours. She’s amazing. I personally feel like she should be North Carolinian of the year.

If you could point to a moment — or even a season — that brought about the idea of this project to spur on investigative reporting, what would it be?

Our three main challenges are impact, reach and sustainability. When you think about how to accomplish those visions, collaboration is essential. For our investigative reporting to have impact in our community, for it to reach people — we can’t do that alone. We have never viewed ourselves as competitors with the legacy press or any other nonprofit news organization. We view ourselves as a tool for North Carolinians seeking in-depth and investigative reporting. We’re also a tool for other news organizations who want to do this type or reporting or who need additional resources to do this type of reporting. That’s how we view ourselves and that’s how this [project] came about.

Are there any past, present or future CPP stories that you’re particularly excited about?

One came from a listening session we held in Western North Carolina where we asked people, “What’s happening in your community that’s going overlooked?” We heard a lot about what was happening in the adult care home system in North Carolina.

Out of that developed a test case for us as an organization, to do a statewide investigative project. We looked at three years of public records for every adult care home in the state, which is about 1200 facilities. We had information on every single county. What we saw were massive problems with the system. There were abhorrent living conditions. In some cases, there were allegations of prostitution, drug dealing, sexual assault. We did lots of reporting about it over about ten months. That [investigation] tested what it was going take for us to be legitimately statewide. That is serving as a model for us going forward.

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Rachel Wegner is a journalist and multimedia storyteller currently working as a digital producer at The Tennessean. Wegner wrote and edited a series of Q+As with grantees during her tenure as an intern with Democracy Fund’s Public Square program in Summer 2018. Follow Wegner on Twitter @rachelannwegner.