NC News Lab Fund provides 10 journalism grants

Aug 30, 2018

By Teri Saylor
Special to Publishers’ Auxiliary
ASHEVILLE—In 2011, Asheville journalist Angie Newsome took a leap of faith and started Carolina Public Press, an online investigative reporting outlet, as a fiscally sponsored project of the Institute for Southern Studies.
By 2014, the Carolina Public Press had received its own 501(c)(3) status and was well on its way to becoming the award-winning online publication it is today.
“We have focused on Western North Carolina, covering the 17 to 18 counties in the western part of the state,” Newsome said in a recent phone interview.
Last summer, the Carolina Public Press received a $100,000 grant from the North Carolina News Lab Fund to expand across North Carolina and establish itself as a statewide online news organization devoted to investigative and enterprise reporting with a mission of uncovering stories that are begging to be told.
The North Carolina News Lab Fund, with a purpose of supporting people and organizations working to build a healthier local news ecosystem in North Carolina, is a collaborative fund, led and managed by an advisory group of local stakeholders and the Democracy Fund. It is housed at the North Carolina Community Foundation.
The recent round of grant funding, which awarded 10 grants totaling $500,000, is the beginning of a multi-year commitment to build momentum by supporting local public-interest news and information that serves communities across the entire state.
The funding was awarded to a variety of nonprofit news-related organizations to help cover projects ranging from expansion and capacity-building, to training and education, plus community engagement.
The Democracy Fund was created by eBay founder and philanthropist Pierre Omidyar as a resource to help strengthen democracy in the United States, according to Teresa Gorman, local news associate in the Public Square program at the Democracy Fund.
“With declining ad revenues, newsprint tariffs, and the lack of succession plans, many local newspapers are finding themselves in dire straits,” Gorman said in a phone call. “We’re trying to help, and are seeking ways we can holistically support them and other local news organizations.”
In addition to supporting journalism endeavors, the nonpartisan Democracy Fund also assists efforts to stand up for vulnerable communities, litigate on behalf of civil rights, and expand transparency and oversight of government’s executive branch.
Newsome, a former investigative reporter for the Asheville Citizen-Times, started Carolina Public Press as a new way to do mission-driven reporting and to cover the rural, sparsely populated communities in western North Carolina in a media environment that is facing declining advertising revenue.
In addition to reporting on its own, the Carolina Public Press is keen to collaborate with legacy media outlets and offers its articles to print, broadcast and online publications to use at no cost.
Funding comes from grants, individual donors, and sponsorships.
“We also receive earned income from our training programs, and we have trained about 350 students, community residents, local politicians and other journalists,” Newsome said.
Much of the organization’s training programs focus on the North Carolina Open Meetings and Public Records Laws and the Freedom of Information Act, she added.
In addition to expanding statewide, Newsome said the Carolina Public Press plans to use its grant funding to pilot collaborative journalism efforts and is seeking opportunities to find local stories that can be elevated to a statewide or regional level. Newsome and her staff will also look for ways to engage communities across North Carolina to uncover issues of importance to residents.
“We recently published an investigative report on the vast problems in adult care facilities in the state,” Newsome said. “This story was inspired by community listening sessions.”

North Carolina Press Foundation
 receives grant
To help educate reporters and the public about access to information that would uncover issues like those the Carolina Public Press focuses on, the North Carolina Press Foundation received a $33,000 Local News Lab grant to establish a digital version of its Media Law Handbook and perform regional trainings across the state, said Executive Director Phil Lucey.
The NCPF is the nonprofit arm of the North Carolina Press Association, created nearly two decades ago through the merger of the state Newspapers in Education Foundation and the First Amendment Foundation. The NCPF first published hardback and CD versions of the Media Law Handbook, and over time, it became a required textbook for the University of North Carolina School of Media and Journalism. This created a revenue stream for the foundation and for self-funded handbook updates. The new digital version will modernize the book, according to Lucey.
“The Media Law Handbook is no longer a required text with the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Media and Journalism, starting this coming year,” Lucey said. “So, the revenue that was automatically coming in through bulk orders stopped. “We also found that students and journalists often only need certain sections of the handbook and not the whole thing. The digital version will make it easier for them to locate the specific sections they need.”
In combination with publishing the handbook, the foundation will be scheduling media law training sessions in person and through webinars.
“We’ll be able to go around the state from the coast to the mountains, starting as early as next month and following an every-other-month schedule, holding one-day training sessions, focusing on media law with (general counsel) Amanda Martin and myself.”
Lucey hopes the free workshops will touch every newspaper in North Carolina.

Grant funding for Asheville Writers
 in Schools
In addition to paying for training and expanding traditional news gathering operations, the Local News Lab funding also fosters creative programing outside of mainstream media.
The 3-year-old Asheville Writers in Schools program received a $40,000 grant to expand its bilingual “Word on the Street” publication, an online bilingual magazine produced by middle and high school children to give the young people in their community a voice and a vehicle to tell their stories.
Asheville Writers in Schools started as a collective of writers and artists to provide opportunities for school children across all grades, kindergarten through 12th grade, for self-expression and to tell their stories, according to co-founder Tamika Ambrose Murray.
“Over time, the program evolved into a full-fledged nonprofit organization with a formal structure,” she said in a phone interview, along with co-founder Janet Hurley.
In addition to the Word on the Street online magazine, the organization offers an artist mentorship program and Family Voices, a family literacy initiative.
The young journalists who work for the magazine are dubbed “the squad,” according to co-founder Janet Hurley.
“The News Lab grant will connect the children with local mentors, including Julio Todoya, with JMPRO TV, a local LatinX community TV channel,” Hurley says. “We want to provide students opportunities to work with mentors of color who look like them. These mentors will resonate with the students through their shared life experiences.”
Last summer, the squad went through an intensive two-week institute, where they honed skills such as writing, photography, broadcasting, interviewing and podcasting. During the school year, they will work with mentors three afternoons a week, and will tell their stories in collaboration with their communities.
 “We are striving to attract a target audience of young readers to help them better understand the world around them, and we’re looking at a variety of social media platforms to help us reach them,” Hurley said
Currently, 22 children make up the squad, and they are actively recruiting for more participants, primarily through social media and word of mouth. Children who are interested must apply for positions and go through an interview process. Once they are accepted and go to work, they are able to stay on board until they graduate. But even after graduation, they are eligible to come back and participate as mentors.
“We like to tell the children when they join the squad, they are part of Word on the Street for life,” Hurley said.
“We believe it is important for our young people to tell their own stories and control their own narrative,” Ambrose Murray said. “The grant will enable us to become more firmly networked with other media outlets, which will help children learn how to navigate and report on real life scenarios and to look at journalism and storytelling as a career path.”

Other grant recipients
Other programs receiving NC News Lab funding are:
Colectivo de Comunicacion Participativa de Carolina del Norte: Enlace Latino NC: This Spanish-language website offers local, state and national immigration and policy news and will use its grant to focus on building capacity.
Duke University Reporters Lab Fact-Checking Project: The Reporters Lab will provide rigorous fact-checked content for publications and broadcast programs statewide, focusing on the 2018 elections and 2019 NC legislative session.
NC Health News: This online publication devoted to covering health care issues in North Carolina will use grant funding to continue and strengthen its work.
UNC Center for Public TV: Grant funding will enable a collaboration between historically black college and university radio stations and UNC-TV.
UNC School of Media and Journalism: Grant funding will support the school’s Trail Blazer program, sustaining long-term news coverage by simplifying the research process for journalists in North Carolina through a mobile-friendly web based repository of articles, facts, timelines and links to existing stories
WNCU’s Advancement of Emerging Young, Diverse News Journalists: The grant will fund North Carolina Central University’s efforts to provide training to a diverse and underrepresented group of student journalists.
Working Narratives: Grant funding will help support the Wilmington Ecology Project, which focuses on reporting pressing social challenges and will provide training for citizens to produce and report their own stories through a variety of formats. © Teri Saylor 2018

Teri Saylor is on the board of directors of the North Carolina News Cooperative, which applied for a NC News Lab grant. Reach her at