A project of Democracy Fund

North Carolina Local News Lab Fund


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The North Carolina Local News Lab Fund works to ensure that all North Carolinians have access to the local news and information they need to make their communities thrive.


The North Carolina Local News Lab Fund was 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. Since its founding in 2017, the fund is based at the North Carolina Community Foundation.

The fund supports people and organizations working to build a healthier local news and information ecosystem for all North Carolinians. The central goal of the North Carolina Local News Lab Fund is to build resilience and sustainability in the news and information network while encouraging deep service to local communities and accessible, inclusive news and information for all North Carolina residents. The model also seeks to advance the effectiveness of philanthropy in this sector by aligning grantmaking with the pooled fund, expanding the funding available to news and information organizations, and creating opportunities for funders to learn about the importance of local news and information for vibrant civic life.

We are still welcoming new partners into the fund. Contact Lizzy Hazeltine, fund coordinator, at lizzy@localnewslab.org  if you’d like to contribute to support a bright future for local news in North Carolina.

What the Fund Supports

In 2018, the Fund supported work around collaboration, access, network building, and community engagement. After an overwhelming response to a call for proposals, the Fund made $500,000 in grants to 10 organizations, including a Spanish-language digital news startup, a collaboration between UNC-TV and HBCU radio stations, a Duke-UNC-News and Observer fact-checking project, and FOIA training at the NC Press Association. (See the information about its portfolio here.) In addition to grants, former News and Observer executive editor Melanie Sill led convenings and launched a weekly email newsletter NC Local, which has since been curated by local journalists Ryan Tuck and Eric Frederick.

In 2019, the Fund deepened its in-kind capacity building and reinforced support for under-served North Carolina residents, focusing on communities recovering from successive hurricanes, inland flooding, and the role of news and information in supporting recovery and resilience. With additional, aligned funding from the North Carolina Community Foundation’s Disaster Relief Fund, we supported a wide range of organizations that seek to inform NC residents.

Late in 2019, we expanded our team with local leadership and further invested in inclusive, accessible news and information, including the space to explore what might be next. With that round of funding, we reached a total investment of nearly $1 million in NC’s local news and information infrastructure.

That grantmaking revealed that more support was needed to accelerate the progress created by news and information leaders serving their communities in new ways. To meet that need, we determined to start an entity that would serve as a support base for existing partners, welcome new collaborators, and provide practical tools for the work at hand.

In May 2020, the NCLNLF announced the creation of the North Carolina Local News Workshop, an active partner in local news ecosystem development based at Elon University’s School of Communications:

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.

Why Supporting Local News Matters in North Carolina 

Decreased access to local news has a direct impact on civic outcomes like voting, volunteering, and running for office. But newspaper employees dropped by 45 percent from 2008 to 2017 in the U.S., from about 71,000 to 39,000 workers. More than 1,300 U.S. communities have totally lost local news coverage, per a UNC study. Layoffs and buyouts continue constantly in NC. Vast areas of the state lack basic accountability news coverage. There are few, if any, beat reporters covering health, agriculture, and education. Newsrooms have never served certain communities well — as shown through a major problem with diversity and language capacity in a state with an increasingly diverse population. However, there are bright spots, including innovative nonprofit newsrooms, content collaborations, universities that want to help, and more.

In our grants to support the coverage of particular topics or operations of particular news and information organizations, we insist our grantees maintain editorial control of the coverage and work. We will exercise no right of review or influence of editorial content, nor of unauthorized distribution of editorial content.


Advisory Board:

The NCLNL advisory board reviews grant applications and advises the fund’s commitments. The board includes funders that have contributed money (Democracy Fund and representation from the Educational Foundation of America), as well as expertise. 

Teresa Gorman, Democracy Fund; Bobbi Hapgood, Prentice Foundation & Educational Foundation of America; Sorien Schmidt, Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

Note: We accept gifts and grants from individuals and organizations for the general support of our activities grant making and community-support work. Acceptance of financial support does not constitute implied or actual endorsement of donors or their products, services or opinions. We will make public all donors who give a total of $5,000 or more per year. We will accept anonymous donations for general support only if it is clear that sufficient safeguards have been put into place that the expenditure of that donation is made independently by our organization and in compliance with INN’s Membership Standards.


Contact:


Read more about efforts to support North Carolina’s news and information ecosystem: