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 Fund is run 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. It was established at the North Carolina Community Foundation in 2017 by Democracy Fund, a bipartisan foundation that works to ensure that the American people come first in our democracy.

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 provide more relevant and useful news and information for North Carolina communities.

If successful, North Carolinians will have greater access to the news and information they need to participate fully in their communities and our democracy.

We are still welcoming new partners into the fund. Contact us if you’d like to contribute to support a bright future for local news in North Carolina. We welcome questions and comments at localnewslab@democracyfund.org.

What’s Been Funded So Far

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. In addition to grants, former News and Observer Executive Editor Melanie Sill led convenings and launched a weekly email newsletter NC Local.

In 2019, the Fund is continuing to learn about gaps and opportunities to support local news in NC. Future funding will include support for Hurricane Florence recovery coverage, network-building, work on diversity, business model training, and more. We will also share learnings with funders and others who are interested in learning more about supporting local news.

The Problem: Local News in North Carolina Faces Massive Challenges 

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 Prentice Foundation), as well as expertise. 

Elena Conley, Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, Teresa Gorman, Democracy Fund, Bobbi Hapgood, Prentice Foundation, Ivan Kohar Parra, NC Congress of Latino Organizations, Sorien Schmidt, Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, Josh Stearns, Democracy Fund

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.

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