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By Shannan Bowen, Executive Director
Greetings, NC Local readers!
I’m writing today from our state’s beautiful mountains, where I’m visiting with journalists and community members in Asheville, the Qualla Boundary, Boone and areas in between. I’m here to listen to media leaders and communities about local news challenges and opportunities in their region. My visit is also timed with the announcement of an important effort to better understand our Western North Carolina communities, which I’m sharing with you today.
As I mentioned in a recent newsletter, the NC Local News Workshop will focus on community listening and engagement across our state so that we can create programs that help our news and information organizations continue to serve their communities as well as reach new and underserved communities. We’re starting this statewide effort by focusing first on North Carolina’s mountain region, comprising two dozen counties and many diverse communities. With support from the NC Local News Lab Fund and Dogwood Health Trust, we are hiring our first Research and Community Listening Fellow, who will lead efforts in communities of all types in this region—geographically and demographically—to understand residents’ needs for news and information, valued products and services, gaps in services, challenges in accessing information, topics of interest and news consumption habits, among many other insights.
This part-time, contract Fellow, and additional Fellows in the future, will update our understanding of WNC’s communities and media and information landscape, identifying and surfacing gaps as well as opportunities. In particular, community listening efforts will focus on people and communities who are traditionally underrepresented or underserved, including those who are Indigenous, Black, Latinx, poor or in rural areas, and several others. This insight will lead to future NC Local News Workshop programs that help our news and information organizations build capacity and solve challenges. More significantly, we hope this research will be impactful to the future of WNC’s news ecosystem, leading to new sources of news and information, collaborations and other projects.
From previous research and ongoing conversations with WNC media and community members, we know that communities across the region are not homogeneous, just as their geographic areas vary somewhat county by county. We’ll be learning from the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians in the Qualla Boundary, our different Hispanic/Latinx communities, people living in news deserts, our academic communities and many others who help to distinguish the mountain region from other areas of our state. We know those living in the mountains often feel disconnected from policy decisions being made in Raleigh, though those decisions have real impact at home. We also know that lack of access to reliable broadband in the area affects how people receive news and information. We’ll seek to understand where the gaps exist—and opportunities for filling them.
And though we’re starting here in the mountains, we expect to continue the same efforts across the state. The hired Fellow also will aid efforts to replicate this work by Fellows in other regions, leading to an updated view and better understanding of North Carolina’s entire news and information ecosystem.
As always, you are welcome to send me an email or Twitter message with questions or input. I’d especially welcome hearing from anyone in our mountain region who would like to connect with the Workshop or our to-be-hired researcher.
Hope to see you in your community soon!
— Shannan Bowen
Apply to be our WNC Research and Community Listening Fellow by Nov. 19.