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May 13, 2020

Introducing the North Carolina Local News Workshop

Paola Jaramillo of Enlace NC speaks at a previous NCLNF convening

By The North Carolina Local News Lab Fund

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, recently established the North Carolina Local News Workshop with a grant of $180,000 to Elon University. 

This new support base represents an expanded approach to elevating and serving the news and information needs of all North Carolina residents. The Workshop will be housed in Elon’s School of Communications.

More than $1.3 million has already been committed to meeting those needs through our ongoing grantmaking, including the funding available in our recently announced RFP. The Fund continues to welcome partners who want to support local news and information as part of the state’s civic infrastructure. 

Our grantmaking has revealed that funding is critical to supporting quality, accessible local news and information, but is not sufficient to fully connect a resilient network of news and information organizations that have the practical tools to serve all North Carolina residents.

The Workshop is a direct response to the need we have heard in the previous three years of listening and engagement led by senior news consultant Melanie Sill. Sill’s work since 2017, including workshops, training and networking events with nonprofits, public media, universities, journalists, independent publishers, student media and media serving black and Latinx communities, has underscored that capacity building, convening and connection are key to building on our state’s momentum. 

“We’re responding to our state’s deepening local news crisis by establishing this new statewide support base for those working to inform North Carolina residents and communities,” said Lizzy Hazeltine, fund coordinator for the NC Local News Lab Fund. “Local news and information systems are critical infrastructure, a fact which has only become more plain during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Elon University’s commitment to serving communities across the state as part of its new strategic plan neatly aligns with the Workshop’s goals. The University’s central location, existing relationships with the NC Open Government Coalition and commitment to equity all expand the potential impact of the Workshop’s efforts.

“The Workshop aligns with Elon’s strategic vision for community engagement and efforts to ensure North Carolinians have access to information so that they can participate in democratic processes and community engagement,” said Rochelle Ford, Dean of Elon’s School of Communications. “This new partnership will create more opportunities for innovation and access to local news and information throughout the state, including opportunities for Elon student internships and faculty/staff collaborative projects.“

The Workshop focuses on practical programming that equips journalists with the skills and tools to serve communities. The Workshop’s interim executive director will be Melanie Sill, former top editor and news executive at The News & Observer, The Sacramento Bee, and KPCC. She has also been Batten Professor of Journalism at Davidson College for the spring 2020 semester.

“We’re looking forward linking the Workshop’s activities to the many vibrant organizations in North Carolina that are doing national, international and local work that aligns with our mission.”

“We’re looking forward linking the Workshop’s activities to the many vibrant organizations in North Carolina that are doing national, international and local work that aligns with our mission — the Charlotte Journalism Collaborative, Duke’s Reporter’s Lab, UNC’s Center for Local Media, the NC Press Association, the NC Open Government Coalition at Elon and others,” Sill said. “We aim to support and partner with these organizations, which are such a vital part of our local news ecosystem.”

The Workshop’s first formal effort is already underway, with the NC Local News Intern Corps. The search is underway for four student journalists who will add pooled reporting and engagement capacity during the COVID-19 crisis. 

The Workshop has taken inspiration from ongoing work in other state ecosystems, such as Colorado, New Jersey, New Mexico and Philadelphia, facilitated by organizations that operate in similar ways to support community information needs, foster inclusive local news ecosystems and the resilience of individual organizations.

Organizations and individuals interested in learning more about the Workshop should email Melanie Sill at melanie@localnewslab.org.

For more information about the Fund, the current RFP or supporting NC’s local news and information ecosystem, email Lizzy Hazeltine at lizzy@localnewslab.org.

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.

The Fund pursues that mission with an ecosystem strategy that combines grantmaking with programming to build resilience and sustainability in the news and information network while encouraging deep service to local communities. The model also seeks to advance the effectiveness of philanthropy in this sector by aligning grantmaking with the pooled fund and creating opportunities for funders to learn about the importance of local news and information for vibrant civic life.