Participants in a workshop led by Wmforo staff members Lindsey Wilson and Lisa Lopez discuss the digital divide and how news organizations can better serve digitally challenged individuals. Photo: Lisa Lopez / Wmforo

Reporters, editors, researchers and other news professionals attended the annual N.C. Local News and Information Summit last week at Elon University. The event was organized in collaboration with the N.C. Local News Workshop and the N.C. Open Government Coalition and attracted newsmakers from across the state to discuss the state of local news and freedom of information.

The day started with a plenary, “The State of North Carolina: What’s Going on in Our News Ecosystem?” The session included a discussion of current news media research facilitated by Jessica Mahone and Erica Perel of the UNC Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media. Research highlighting the needs of underserved communities, working conditions for journalists and the effects of news loss on transparency/civic life was discussed in depth in the opening plenary conversation.

Representatives from news organizations, such as the Coastal Plains Advocate and The Border Belt Independent, spoke about the need to provide high-quality reporting to every community in North Carolina, especially those that are often overlooked by larger news organizations concentrated in metro areas. Justin Smith of the Whiteville News Reporter said he is committed to stewarding his paper for another 25 years so it reaches its 150th birthday.

“We are finding new ways to create revenue,” Smith said, speaking to the ways that legacy newspapers are innovating to find sustainable business models.

Justin Smith, Whiteville News Reporter

This opening conversation grounded the summit in a sense of cautious optimism for the future of local journalism while still acknowledging hard realities of our current news ecosystem, such as the decline of ad revenue and the closure of dozens of local papers across the state.

Wmforo staff members Lindsey Wilson and Lisa Lopez led a workshop at the N.C. Local News and Information Summit. They discussed the digital divide and how news organizations can better serve digitally challenged individuals. Photo: Lisa Lopez / Wmforo

Throughout the day, the summit featured workshops on issues related to news, information and open government. The Wmforo team, with staff members Lisa Lopez and Lindsey Wilson, presented a workshop called “Bridging the Digital Divide in North Carolina Communities,” which looked at how digital inequality impacts individuals and communities in North Carolina.

As part of this workshop, participants discussed two case studies and identified how news and information organizations could better serve individuals experiencing digital access and literacy challenges. Numerous ideas were generated by the group and recorded so that news organizations can begin to take steps toward including hard-to-reach people in their reporting and news dissemination. The workshop included a brief overview of the findings from the N.C. Connection: Closing the News Gap research reports, which can be found on the project landing page.

Other workshops included:

  • How to Access Pro Bono Legal Assistance for News Gathering Rights
  • Three Ways to Collaborate
  • Elevating Environmental Justice Issues with Data Mapping Tools

All the workshops were one hour long, using different formats, including panel discussions, informal AMA (ask me anything) conversations and interactive World Cafe-style sessions.

The summit wrapped up with a keynote that addressed the challenges and opportunities facingBlack, Indigenous and People of Color, or BIPOC, news organizations, including hyperlocal newsrooms and startups. Speakers Meredith Clark of Northeastern University and Tracie Powell of The Pivot Fund spoke about the ways in which BIPOC-led news organizations are sometimes left out of conversations about local news, pushing back against the perception that ethnic news is separate from local news. Powell cited the example of a BIPOC-led television network in Georgia saying, “They provide news for the whole community, not just its BIPOC members.”

These perspectives are an important part of the local news ecosystem and should be recognized as such by funders and other news organizations. Clark and Powell spoke about several BIPOC news organizations that are doing exceptional work, such as BEE TV in Georgia and MLK 50, as examples of how these organizations provide important context and content to the local and national news conversations.

The daylong summit featured many chances for meaningful networking and conversation between attendees, and the atmosphere was one of collaboration as opposed to competition. As participants spoke with each other throughout the day, there were repeated calls from industry leaders to innovate, invest in local communities and listen to the voices of the next generation. “If we are going to survive as an industry, we are going to have to learn from each other,” said one workshop participant. The N.C. Local News and Information Summit made space for that conversation to begin, and attendees are now tasked with the goal of finding new ways to learn, collaborate and grow together.

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